For St. Clair Catholic District School Board education director Dan Parr, the accommodation review launched last week is the next step toward a brighter future for the board’s nearly 9,000 students.
“I understand the emotional connection parents and some students feel about their particular schools, but we have an opportunity to provide much better, modern functional facilities for students,” he said. “That has to be our focus.”
The first option listed under the terms of the review would see up to six elementary schools in Chatham closed (Georges P. Vanier, Monsignor Uyen, St. Agnes, St. Joseph, St. Ursula and St. Vincent) and the construction of two new schools, one each on the north and south side of the community.
According the board’s capital plan:
- Georges P. Vanier and Monsignor Uyen are projected to experience enrolment pressures within 5 years
- Current capacity surplus of over 400 pupil places is projected to increase to over 550 within 7 years
- Agnes, St. Joseph, St. Ursula and St. Vincent all require major upgrades while Georges P. Vanier, Monsignor Uyen and Our Lady of Fatima are all in good condition
- Agnes, St. Ursula, St. Vincent and Monsignor Uyen all require air conditioning
Parr said the review is being driven by a combination of declining enrolment and necessary upgrades to many of the schools built during the post-World War Two baby boom.
The board’s 26 elementary and two secondary schools have a capacity of 10,595 students and actual enrolment totals 8,734. That translates to a 17 per cent vacancy rate.
In order to bring all schools up to the province’s Facility Condition Index, the board would have to spend just under $60 million. The total value of the buildings is just over a quarter of a billion dollars.
At present the board receives less than $5 million annually for such upgrades.
“These are public tax dollars and it’s our responsibility to use them wisely,” Parr said. “It’s difficult to justify having schools operate at 60 per cent capacity or less.”
There are currently 49 surplus classrooms among the board’s total of 340.
“Renewal is a good thing,” he said. “These facilities have served us well but at the end of the day, it’s about students, not buildings. If we can obtain provincial funding for modern schools, we need to explore that option. We should be looking at this with a great deal of optimism and hope.”
The accommodation review process will include public input meetings during the next several months.
Once that process is completed next spring, recommendations will be forwarded to the board and eventually to the province for consideration.
Parr said the board is committed to open dialogue with those it serves.
“We will be posting all information on our website and we want to hear comments from all points of view,” he said.
Information related to the accommodation report and capital report can be found on the board’s website: http://www.st-clair.net/