Board receives $52.6-million for school consolidation construction work

MPP Grant Crack, second from left, announces $52.6-million for UCDSB school projects this morning — projects resulting from the Board's school closure and consolidation initiatives.

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

AVONMORE — The other shoe has dropped on the Upper Canada District School Board’s regional school closure plan. Make that a bag of provincial money.

The Board is getting $52.6-million for new construction and renovation projects to accommodate its slate of controversial school consolidations approved by trustees earlier this year.

In a surprise visit to the neighbouring riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, Liberal MPP Grant Crack announced the sum June 14 in front of Roxmore Public School — set to receive $2.6-million of the allocated amount. Crack acknowledged the Avonmore-based school’s expansion would allow it to take in students from Berwick’s North Stormont Public School — whose previously approved closure was contingent on funding for an expansion at Roxmore P.S.

Crack also tallied up $39-million for a new high school to replace four secondary school sites (including the already “closed” General Vanier High School) in Cornwall plus $10.8-million for a new elementary school in Brockville to accommodate primary students from three schools that will close in that area.

“I think these are great investments, to provide jobs as we keep moving forward,” said the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP.

“These consolidations, they’re done to bring students from across the region into one area,” he added, “to create new school communities with modern, high-quality facilities, to ensure students have the best possible learning environment while enabling school boards to reduce the cost of underused space.”

Board Chair Jeff MacMillan thanked the MPP for “recognizing the needs that we have, and our young people, to move them into the 21st century.

Local Tory MPP Jim McDonell said he wasn’t invited to the event — but managed to show up in time to stand beside Crack at the podium.

McDonell said it struck him as curious the announcement was made in Avonmore instead of Cornwall, where 80 percent of the money is being spent. “They announce the money … in areas where people aren’t so unhappy,” McDonell suggested, noting that closing the existing fleet of high schools in Cornwall isn’t so popular. He described the impact on that city as “devastating.”

The government needs to “sit down and look at how we provide rural education,” said McDonell, criticizing the Wynne government for spending without a plan — and before hearing from a three-person panel currently examining rural education. “I find it premature,” he said.

“If we had a plan tailored to rural Ontario, maybe we wouldn’t spend as much, or we would spend it differently.”

McMillan acknowledged that North Stormont Public School would be closing as a result of the funding commitment. But he foresaw no immediate impact on the future of both Maxville Public School and the elementary portion of Rothwell-Osnabruck School in Ingleside. Parents at both schools  have been pushing for their own French Immersion program instead of seeing French Immersion students from their communities transported to Avonmore — a trend that doesn’t seem likely to change with capital expansion dollars going into the expansion of that school exclusively. “Not at this point,” said MacMillan, when asked if believed Maxville P.S. might one day receive French Immersion programming. (French Immersion currently runs to Grade 3 at R-O.)

A school’s lack of French Immersion is now popularly viewed as a precursor to attempted closure in the future, by critics of the UCDSB’s most recent accommodation review process, ‘Building for the Future.’ The program was removed from the secondary grades at R-O a decade ago, for example, and now that school is scheduled to lose its Grade 7 through 12 students altogether to Tagwi Secondary School in Avonmore this fall.

McDonell echoed that concern. “If we don’t … look at what we’re doing, we’ll be closing all the schools in the future.”

This article was edited to properly reflect the French Immersion situation at Rothwell-Osnabruck School.

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