Immaculate separation: School swap ends 30-year facility-sharing era at Cornwall’s General Vanier site

At the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (from left): UCDSB Director of Education Stephen Sliwa, UCDSB Chair Jeff McMillan, CDSBEO Chair Todd Lalonde, and CDSBEO Director of Education John Cameron. Courtesy photo

CORNWALL — The former General Vanier school site will be swapped for Immaculate Conception Catholic School, in a trade between competing school boards also involving the exchange of as-yet undisclosed sums of taxpayer money to complete the deal by September.

“I can say at this time the transaction of buildings was done based on fair market values,” said Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) trustee Todd Lalonde, when asked for the price his board will pay the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and vice versa. “Once completed we can share the numbers,” the trustee said in an email.

“This exchange is a great example of school boards working together to ensure that the best programming is available for all students while remaining fiscally responsible,” noted Lalonde.

Arising from recent accommodation reviews looking at surplus school space in both boards, the Memorandum of Understanding signed Thursday between the CDSBEO and the UCDSB also spells the end of a long-time example of facility sharing across the sectarian education divide in the city. Since the early 1990s, both boards have occupied 1500 Cumberland St. — originally built as a public high school, General Vanier (GV). As student populations declined, approximately half of the GV site was purchased by the Catholic board to accommodate St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School. The UCDSB has used its remaining portion to host the TR Leger School for Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education after shutting down GV altogether in 2011.

Lalonde confirmed his board’s impending purchase would see the CDSBEO acquire the balance of the property it doesn’t already own. The move would create a new consolidated JK-6 Catholic school for Sacred Heart/St. Columban’s, as well as a new grade 7/8 program for St. Joe’s — taking in all grade 7 and 8 students from Bishop Macdonell, St. Anne, and the consolidated Sacred Heart/St. Columban’s Catholic Schools.

The swap arrangement technically involves two separate real estate transactions.

The CDSBEO purchase will be covered by Ontario taxpayers, following confirmation of Ministry of Education funding in January, according to a press release issued after the March 29 signing of the memorandum.

It’s not immediately clear if the UCDSB will likewise collect provincial money to buy the corresponding site at 600 McConnell Ave. It plans to reopen the TR Leger School at the former Immaculate Conception site this September. The UCDSB, however, did previously score a $39-million ministry commitment for the construction of a new public high school in the city.

CDSBEO Vice-Chair Ron Eamer acknowledged a “30-year history of cooperation at the St. Joseph’s/General Vanier site” but defended the change as “absolutely the best use of available resources” that will “provide our Catholic school community with an excellent facility.”

UCDSB Chair Jeff McMillan lauded the upcoming exchange of properties. It will help “to address the immediate needs for program space that suits our current requirements,” McMillan said. “This is both a practical and a timely solution for our respective needs to serve students in the best way possible.”

“This exchange builds on our commitment to collaborate with our community partners like the CDSBEO, to ensure students throughout the district are best served by the educational facilities they need,” said David McDonald, UCDSB 2nd Vice Chair. “We are pleased that many students in the Cornwall area will be able to benefit from these facilities.”

 

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