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Feature Article - April 12, 2007

Consolidate public schools in SharbotLake, review says

by JeffGreen

A provincially mandated draft accommodation review, which was prepared by Watson and Associates of Mississauga, has been presented to the property committee of the Limestone District School Board. It calls for 30 schools in Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington to be closed, and 11 new schools to be built.

In the northern part of Frontenac County, the draft review calls for drastic changes. If implemented as proposed, Hinchinbrooke, Land o’ Lakes, Clarendon Central, and Sharbot Lake Public School would all close over the next few years, and a K-12 school would be built on the site of Sharbot Lake High School.

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The proposed model is identical to what is already in place in Addington Highlands, where North Addington Education Centre (NAEC) serves students from the age or 4 or 5 until they leave school at age 18.

The proposals do not impact NAEC, except that some students who currently attend Clarendon Central in Plevna would be directed that way if Clarendon Central were to close.

The proposal would also see about 1/3 of the students who are now attending Hinchinbrooke Public School going to Prince Charles School in Verona, which is slated to be re-built in the next couple of years (see article on page 16).

Ann Goodfellow, who is the school board trustee from the so-called northern region, and the current board chair, said that the accommodation review that has been prepared “is a good exercise to go through, but it certainly is not binding on the board.”

In an interview with the News, Goodfellow pointed to two processes underway, which will have a great impact on how much of the review will be acted upon.

The school board will be passing its accommodation policy soon, which will determine general procedures for closing schools, and the board staff will be doing their own accommodation review, which is the document that will be eventually provided to the Ministry of Education.

Jack Amendolia is the senior researcher with Watson and Associates who prepared the report. When contacted, he said that the report was prepared using information that was provided to him by school board staff, and that no site visits were carried out.

“A lot of the information we used came from Statistics Canada,” Amendolia said, “and we had to keep in the back of our minds that the data we used came from the 2001 census, because the data from the 2006 census that we would have used is not yet available. However the demographic trends have been occurring in a lot of these areas for many years, and don’t seem to be changing.”

For the board area PE10, which encompasses the Sharbot Lake and NAEC families of schools, enrolment decreased by 5% between 2001 and 2006, and is projected to decrease by a further 15% over the next 14 years. This is consistent with projections for the Limeston Board as a whole.

Sharbot Lake High School had been placed on a provincial “prohibitive to repair” list, which makes it a candidate for replacement but also means that funding will not be provided for any major upgrades to the existing facility.

“It does not make sense to replace Sharbot Lake High School with a school of the same size,” said Amendolia, “a high school for a student population of 200 is not viable. It just made sense to go for a JK 12 school, giving a lot more flexibility.” Amendolia also said that there is a lot of support in the community for a new school in Sharbot Lake, but the closure of all the feeder schools is not a popular concept.

At Land o’ Lakes School in Mountain Grove, for example, the parents’ council has been actively fundraising in recent years, and a new play structure, a new track, and a P.A. system have been purchased.

“I’d hate to see all of that go,” said Parent Council Chair Lisa Ferguson, who also expressed concern over the impact the closing the school would have on the local community. “It’s really all we have left.”

Of the Sharbot Lake High School feeder schools, “Sharbot Lake Elementary, Clarendon Central and Hinchinbrooke have all been identified by the board as candidates for ‘prohibitive to repair’”, the Watson report said.

Jack Amendolia said that Watson and Associates has worked for a number of school boards in developing long term strategies, and continues to do so, and thus the basic economic logic that was brought to the Limestone report is consistent with what is current throughout the province.

Ann Goodfellow pointed out that the Limestone Board has generally been reluctant to close schools, and factors such as community needs are always taken into account. She said no school closings would be undertaken without a lot of community consultation.

“Our board has never done a mass closure” Ann Goodfellow said, “and I just can’t see closing every school out here, and building one new one. Ever since my kids were in kindergarten this has been talked about, and it hasn’t happened.”

For Goodfellow, the facilities review comes at a time when the board staff and trustees are in the midst of some other major issues, including their 2008 budget, and replacing Director of Education Ron Sharp, who has announced his intention to retire at the end of June. “We should really all take a deep breathe,” she concludes, “and take it one step at a time.”

Watson and Associates will be presenting their final report in the coming weeks. The final report will include projected costs for the proposed building projects.

In general terms, the cost of building a new high school is in the $12 to $15 million range, according to Jack Amedolia.

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