| Jun 25, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - June 25, 2009 Province promises $13 million for new school in Central FrontenacBy Jeff Green

At the start of the final public meeting (June 18 at Sharbot Lake High School) before the Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) for the Sharbot Lake family of schools submits their final report to the Limestone District School Board, it was announced that the Ontario Ministry of Education made a commitment of almost $13 million “for an accommodation solution for the Sharbot Lake family of schools”.

The PARC, which will submit its final report to the school board staff after their final meeting on July 6, had recommended in its draft report that Hinchinbrooke and Sharbot Lake Public Schools, as well as Sharbot Lake High School be closed and replaced with a new Kindergarten to grade 12 school, to be located “at the Sharbot Lake High School site or another suitable location”.

The question of what is a “suitable location” was raised at the public meeting at Sharbot Lake High School on June 18.

Ruth Bailey, the facilitator to the PARC, had previously stated that the Hinchinbrooke site was unsuitable for a new, larger school, because the school board does not own enough land at the site.

Parham resident Lisa Hamilton addressed that at the public meeting.

“On behalf of my mother, who owns property next to Hinchinbrooke school, I would like to tell you that she is willing to sell it at a very reasonable price if it means building a school in Parham,” she said.

There was also talk at the meeting about the township and the Parham Fair Board negotiating a favourable lease to make it easier for the school board to consider the Parham site instead of Sharbot Lake.

Mayor Gutowski said she was concerned that if there were no school in Parham, the former Hinchinbrooke students who live to the south of Parham would be bussed to Verona and Prince Charles Public School.

“I don't like the idea of losing people to the south. We need to keep our people, and the south is already lucky enough to have seen population growth, so a solution that costs us students is not good for local business or for the township,” she said.

Other speakers at the sparsely attended meeting said that the focus on bricks and mortar missed the crucial issue, which is programming.

Karen Skuce, the mother of three children who attend Hinchinbrooke school, said, “I think the programming has been forgotten here. It's not about physical structures; it's about enriched learning and challenge programs. I have to tell you that if Hinchinbrooke closes I would, as a parent, be looking at Sydenham. I think the programming has been forgotten.”

Liz Steele-Drew, who teaches at Sharbot Lake High School and has a daughter attending Land O'Lakes Public School in Mountain Grove, said, “My point is about programming as well. We don't want our children to be disadvantaged.”

She then asked Board Treasurer Roger Richard if the location of a new school would be decided “now or later?”

“The way the process works,” Richard replied, “when the PARC makes a recommendation it includes where the school should be located. The board will make a final decision on a new school and a location, so any input should be now.”

Township Council wants to keep all schools open

Five days after the public meeting, (on June 23) the township council of Central Frontenac decided to make their opinion on school closings known in the form of a motion from council. Central Frontenac Council has little direct impact on the decisions of the PARC apart from the vote of its representative to the PARC, who is 1 of 30 members on the committee,

Deputy Mayor Gary Smith, who is the township’s representative to the PARC now that Norman Gunensperger has resigned, brought the matter of school closings to Council, saying, “There is a PARC meeting on July 6, which will be our final opportunity to affect the final PARC report.”

“I think it's a little late in the game already,” said Councilor Frances Smith.

Nonetheless a motion which stated that the schools in Parham, Mountain Grove and Sharbot Lake should all remain open in their current form was approved by Council.

Limestone School Board staff have made it clear that the $13 million commitment from the Province is only available for new construction, so if the PARC suddenly reverses course and votes to keep the existing schools in Sharbot Lake, Mountain Grove, and Parham open, they would effectively be turning down a new $13 million school.

The PARC final report will be submitted after the July 6 meeting, to be held at Hinchinbrooke school at 6:30 pm. (The public is welcome to attend as spectators)

School board staff will consider the PARC report, but will then submit their own report, which may or may not be the same as the PARC report, to the school board trustees. After a final public meeting, the trustees will make a final decision.

(Editor’s Note: the News has been seeking information over Monday and Tuesday of this week, without success, from the Limestone Board as to how many students the province expects them to house in a $13 million school. The fate not only of Hinchinbrooke School, but Land O’Lakes Public School as well, may hang in the balance.

What we do know is that the funding commitment is only preliminary, and the ministry will look at final building plans before transferring any money.)

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