Parents and students have many concerns when it comes to the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board’s accommodation review that could see the closure of several area schools.
Six of the County’s eight schools are affected in proposals for closures and consolidations as the HPEDSB grapples with capital renewal needs of $250 million over the next decade and low enrolment numbers.
Over 200 parents, students and grandparents attended the HPEDSB’s first public meeting at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute Wednesday evening equipped with a host of questions including timelines for transitioning, renovations to the high school, lack of green space, safety and transportation.
The 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.
Todd Foster, parent and member of the Sophiasburgh Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) took issue with the timeline and wanted to know how the board will complete the necessary work at PECI in time for elementary students to start in September.
“We have your decision coming on June 19 and a school starting date of September 5,” he said. “I want you to provide us with a chart at the February 16 ARC meeting that outlines how you intend to do this. I want to see milestone dates such as selection of your architect and engineer to modify this building, I want to see design, your tendering period in there because you’re going to need a general contractor I assume, your janitors aren’t going to be able to do this. Also you’re going to need a building permit and how long is that going to take?”
Wellington resident Lisa Burke voiced her concern to Quinte News about the construction timeline and said she also hopes the board has a concrete plan at the next ARC meeting. Burke attended CML school and now her children who are in Grades 3 and 5 go there too. While Burke said she very much sees the importance behind keeping rural schools open she noted some positives with the consolidation.
“I was planning on transferring my children to Queen E for French Immersion and now that will be offered at PECI for everyone,” she said. “With this proposal it would mean there will be more funding coming to PECI and in the long run it will enhance opportunities for students that may not have them at the schools they are attending now.” She also pointed to how PECI will have regular Education Assistants to help children with special needs where now they are rotating through the schools.
Evelyn Wilson a member of the Kente ARC voiced her concerns about the long bus rides for students going to PECI from the northern end of the County. She said it doesn’t make sense to start busing kids from Kente to CML when Belleville is closer.
“We need to slow this down and figure out what is the most efficient ways to move the kids around, in terms of time and money,” she said.
Superintendent of Business Services Nick Pfeiffer said they hope to have transition and transportation timelines soon.
Mike Farrell who is a member of the Accommodation Review Committee said he moved his family to Sophiasburgh two years.
He pointed to how the review doesn’t address the social and economic impacts on rural communities into account.
He said the plan proposed goes against the brand of what the County is about and the new build a new life concept that is drawing new residents like himself.
Mayor Robert Quaiff said that while attending the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference this week he had the opportunity to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter.
He said he and councillor Bill Roberts asked them to slow the process down and take into consideration the impacts on rural communities.
“In her delivery to ROMA, she said she wanted school boards and municipalities to work very closely together. When we had our one-one-one, she encouraged that conversation and I pointed out to her that school boards are agencies of the province and she, along with her minister of education, should reach out to the school boards as well.”
The next public meeting is April 20.