SCOTT ROSTS/Niagara This Week
District School Board of Niagara staff recommend building a new $12-million school on Carlton Street, and shutting the doors of three schools in St. Catharines, as part of a major review to address declining enrolment.
Senior administration from the DSBN presented their final recommendation to DSBN trustees on elementary schools located in the central part of the Garden City. Their recommendation differed with an option presented by the volunteer accommodation review committee, going against the two-school model proposed for the ARC in favour of building a new school that would accommodate 550 students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8 at 185 Carlton St. Memorial, Maywood and Alexandra schools would be closed, with students consolidating in the new build for September 2015. It would also mean the end of Queen Mary, as students who would transition to that school would attend the new school.
Volunteers on the ARC committee last month finalized their recommendation and suggested Memorial stay open, and be redeveloped, with Alexandra and Maywood students, along with those attending Queen Mary, moving to a new school built on Carlton. The DSBN recommendation came as disappointing news to many parents in attendance who supported keeping Memorial open.
“I’m a little shocked that they’re not going to take our community input into this,” said Terry Resney, a Memorial parent who represented the school on the ARC. “They’ve had their turn to speak, and now we’re going to have our time to speak.”
He said parents, while hoping senior staff would agree with the ARC opinion, have already planned to attend upcoming meetings to voice their opinions. They have also lined up a series of experts to come and speak. The Memorial Public School community was already very vocal, and visible, throughout the accommodation review process.
The senior administration recommendation, however, was virtually identical to one pitched early in the ARC process. The staff report said shutting the doors of Memorial, and having students move to the new school would be the “most equitable, fiscally responsible, long term, sustainable option.”
“Spending $3.3 million of capital funds to upgrade the Memorial facility for 160 students is neither a reasonable nor equitable solution,” said DSBN superintendent Wesley Hahn, reading the staff report. “There are many other St. Catharines schools with larger enrolments that also require repairs, renovations and improvements.”
The senior staff proposal includes a price tag of about $12 to $12.5 million to build the new school, with completion intended for as early as September 2015. The board already owns the 9.6-acre site, and staff said the board would request ministry funding to assist with the build if approved. There would also be an increase of about $82,000 per year in transportation costs.
Staff noted, however, they would save about $470,000 a year in operating costs, in addition to avoiding about $3 million in investments in its 10-year facility renewal plan. There would also be the opportunity to generate revenue should the board sell the Alexandra, Memorial or Maywood properties.
Resney said Memorial parents are looking forward to sharing their own numbers. Some of the concerns revolve around the totals it would cost to redevelop Memorial Public School to accommodate students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, as well as other improvements such as a new gymnasium, and more.
“That’s their numbers,” he said, calling some of the board information “misleading.”
St. Catharines city councillor Mark Elliott said the proposal has a giant impact on the downtown, going against the revitalization efforts that are pumping millions of dollars into the core.
“This would certainly leave a large void,” said Elliott, noting there are numerous projects in planning that will bring residential growth to the core, and removing schools will create a challenge to market those developments.
“Every inner-city child would have to be bussed. It’s appalling,” added Elliott, noting some of the students in that area will face learning barriers in a larger school.
Elliott said he is disappointed with the way the term sustainability was tossed around during the meeting, noting the recommendation doesn’t fit those principles.
“Everybody else’s idea of sustainability includes four pillars — economic, but also social, cultural and environmental, the people side of things,” he said. “They seemed to have removed the people from the sustainability equation and only want to look at economics.”
With the reports from senior staff, and the ARC tabled, DSBN trustees now have 60 days to determine what direction to take. The earliest a decision will be made based on that timing is Tuesday, April 23. Trustees can vote on either the ARC or senior administration reports, or come up with their own recommendations to table.
Leading up to that meeting, community members can make delegations at upcoming board meetings to share their input on the recommendations. Delegations wishing to appear before the board are required to provide the DSBN notice in writing by noon of the Wednesday prior to the board meeting which the delegation wishes to attend. Requests to speak before the board can be sent to Marian Lamb at firstname.lastname@example.org.