In what continues to be called a hasty and flawed accommodation review process, parents in Sophiasburgh have made an innovative counter proposal in an attempt to save their children’s elementary school from possibly closing in 2018.
Currently Sophiasburgh Central School is one of Prince Edward County’s six schools facing potential closures and consolidations as the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board grapples with declining enrolment and capital renewal needs to the tune of $250 million over the next decade.
To a crowd of over 100 fellow parents, educators and community members gathered at PECI Wednesday night, the Sophiasburgh accommodation review committee revealed plans to go after some of the $50 million in government funding up for grabs to turn the school into a community hub if the board decides to close it. In May 2016, the province announced $50 million in funding available to renovate surplus school space to make it available for use by community partners and the public.
Parent and Sophiasburgh ARC member Mike Farrell said the hub idea was sparked out of survival. They began talking about the need for child care, community kitchens and gardens coupled with high food insecurity rates in the County. The idea spiraled from there. He said nothing is binding however there is a long list of people embracing the vision and have stepped up writing letters of support saying they would pay to utilize the facility if approved.
He said he learned there could be up to $750,000 available in funding in this area.
Sophiasburgh councillor Bill Roberts who was also in attendance, praised the plan for a multi-purpose facility. He said he has spoken to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office about the idea and they find it impressive.
The board recommendation calls for: the closure of Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School and Picton’s Queen Elizabeth School and move students to Prince Edward Collegiate Institute for September 2017; close Sophiasburgh Central School and move students to Prince Edward Collegiate Institute for September 2018; close CML Snider School in Wellington and Kente Public School and then seek Ministry of Education funding/approval to build a new K-8 elementary school on the CML Snider property or in Wellington for September 2020. Renovations at PECI would be completed to facilitate areas for K-8 students.
Councillor Roberts has been very vocal with Mayor Robert Quaiff at Queen’s Park about the need for more in-depth conversations between the board and rural municipalities about the accommodation review process. Wednesday night he pointed to research published in Municipal World out of the University of Waterloo. It states there are no provincial policy guidelines related to rural school closures that take into account the impact on the rural economy, community development and planning – like what County has in mind when it comes to development and attracting young families to the area.
Dr. Charles E. Pascal a Canadian educator who was appointed as former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Special Advisor on Early Learning in 2007 recently moved to the County. He was also in attendance and spoke to the need to slow down the review.
Similar to the previous meetings held in the County, parents echoed concerns about long bus rides and transitioning. Several parents again raised the proposal to close Massassaga-Rednersville Public School (not a part of the review, along with Athol-South Marysburgh) and moving all of the students to Kente. ARC member Evelyn Wilson revealed five extra buses would be required to transport Kente students to Wellington at a cost of $60,000 a year.
Parent and Queen Elizabeth ARC member Tim Johnson expressed his doubts that PECI will be ready to accommodate 650 additional youngsters by this fall as it was designed 64 years ago for high school students.
Laina Andrews, Superintendent of school climate and student well-being said if the board decides to move ahead with the recommendations then she is optimistic PECI will be ready to welcome everyone. She said during the process a lot of creative ideas have come forward regarding renovations to the inside and exterior of the school, green space, buses and parking.
A final report with a decision is set for June 19.