Four peninsula schools face closure as schoolboard looks to future

About 130 people met at Citadel High Tuesday night to decide the fate of four schools on the Halifax peninsula. School board consultant Maureen O’Shaughnessy presented the school board’s findings to the crowd of mostly teachers and parents in an effort to gain feedback from the people who will be affected by the proposal.

A projection of population growth as compared to the overall population of Halifax and the number of available homes in the municipality reveals that the number of available homes in has risen between 1976 and 2006 and is projected to keep rising until 2021. Likewise, the overall population is also projected to keep rising. In contrast, the number of people per household is expected to drop. This is expected to cause problems in the future.

O’Shaughnessy said demographers expect the population on the peninsula to keep rising until 2021 That population is getting older, however, and has less need for schools. She also said schools need more space now, which is a problem in older schools. A school that used hold 450 students can now only old 308 because it needs auxiliary space such lunchrooms and computer labs.

The four schools currently under review by the board, Oxford Elementary School, St. Catherine’s Elementary School, Cornwallis Junior High School and Gorsebrook Junior High School, exemplify this problem. All of them are least 40 years and are no longer able meet the educational needs of modern students. In addition, the four schools under review are in located neighbourhoods with declining numbers of young families.

The reason for this, according to O’Shaughnessy, is because the formula used by the school board to determine what the student population of a school should be is outdated. The school board does not take auxiliary spaces such as lunch rooms and computer labs into account. As a result, a school that is intended to have student population of 450 may actually only be able to accommodate 308 students. This, according to O’Shaughnessy is one of the reasons why the Halifax Regional School Board may be forced to close some schools on the peninsula.

In order to continue to be of use to the community, significant expansion or renovation will be necessary and that was purpose of Tuesday night’s meeting, to determine which schools are worth renovating. This, however, elicited concerns from the many parents and teachers present, over the long term effects that school closures would have on the peninsula.

Among the concerns raised by parents and teachers were concerns over the fact that if some of the proposed school closings went ahead, students would have to cross major intersections, resulting in accidents. Some parents also expressed concerns over the distance that students from the south end will have to travel in order to get to school.

Some of parents and teachers present were disturbed by the consultant’s evaluation, which seemed to spare affluent south end schools.

“It is distressing that schools that are going to be closed down are in our poorest neighbourhoods,” said Carrie Dawson to cheering and applause.

Dawson’s comments only served to highlight a concern shared by the board, parents and teachers. After the schools close the land the building sit on will revert to either province or the municipality. One of the major long term concerns is that certain neighbourhoods could lose their schools entirely.

O’Shaughnessy sought to reassure all present, however. “This about finding the best use for existing schools and improving facilities,” she said.

This didn’t satisfy everyone, however, as some parents also voiced their concern over having to pick between the lesser of two evils. “We’d really like to question the underlying motivation of the whole process,” said Chris Moore. “From our point of view it seems to me that we are being force to make a choice.”

Others in the audience, such as Ben Proudfoot, the Co-President of the Citadel High Student Council, were concerned about the lack of student voices in the decision-making process. “We had two focus groups for students in our school…a lot of students did not know what Imagine Our Schools was ,” he said.

The consultants asked some people to comment on the plan, but many declined to do so citing lack of personal experience with those neighbourhoods, saying that consultations with the communities in question would be more beneficial.

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