| Jun 18, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - June 11, 2009 Denbigh residents want to keep their schoolBy Jule Koch Brison

At a public meeting on June 15, Denbigh residents let representatives of the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) know in no uncertain terms that their connection to their school has not diminished in the two years since it was closed.

The present school was built in 1960, after the previous school burnt down. In the 1980s the community undertook extensive fundraising to add a gymnasium to the school. They raised Aproximately $37000. and were also able to secure an $80,000 Wintario grant. The gym was built in 1989. Together, the two wings total 981 m² of space, giving the school a capacity of 112 students.

According to one of the school’s former principals, Bill Snider, who spoke at the meeting, a school has stood on the present site since 1850. Mr. Snider was the principal for 17 years prior to the mid-80s, and he said that the high point of the school’s enrollment during his tenure was “over the 150 mark”. That number included students from the Renfrew Board.

Since amalgamation, the highest enrollment at Denbigh PS was 44 in the 2000/2001 school year. The school was closed in June 2006, after registrations for the following year dropped to seven students and the board decided to transfer those students to North Addington Education Centre (NAEC) in Cloyne.

LDSB Superintendent Roger Richard presented a staff report at the meeting detailing the recent history of the school. It notes that presently there are 21 JK to grade 6 students from the former Denbigh catchment area who currently attend NAEC.

The public meeting was called to comply with the report’s recommendation that the LDSB inform the community of its intention to close and dispose of the school in order to receive input from the public before a final decision is made.

Richard said that the board had been approached by at least two individuals interested in acquiring the site, but they did not reveal what their intentions were.

Denbigh resident Paul Isaacs said that the northern ward contributes $300,000 in school taxes every year. According to his calculations, that provides $120,000 for Denbigh PS. He said, “We can educate seven students with that amount of money – the only thing stopping us is you.”

Henry Hogg, Reeve of Addington Highlands Township, spoke on behalf of the residents and stressed that the community should have the opportunity to take over ownership of school, especially considering the amount of money they contributed to its construction.

Steve Giles, a retired police officer and community member, asked if the board had considered approaching community colleges and other organizations to see if they would be interested in using the school to offer courses and other educational activities for the whole community.

In reply, Superintendent Richard detailed the process that the board would have to follow if it made the final decision to dispose of the school. He said that the Education Act would kick in, which mandates that formal letters be sent to 12 “preferred agencies”. These include the Catholic school boards, community colleges, and Addington Highlands Township itself. Those agencies have a full 90 days to indicate whether or not they are interested in acquiring the school, and only if they all decline would the property be put up for public tender.

Reeve Hogg, speaking on behalf of council, then asked if the board would apply the funds that were raised by the community towards the possible purchase of the school by the township.

Richard replied that the act specifies that the school be sold for its “market value”, but he said the board would consider the community’s contribution.

Several community members voiced the opinion that bigger schools do not necessarily provide a better educational experience for students than small schools, leading Director of Education Betty Hunter to point out that the drop in enrolment came about because parents were increasingly choosing to transfer their children to NAEC.

Former principal Snider said that the grade 7s & 8s were transferred to NAEC during his tenure because NAEC had been “overbuilt” and needed students. He said he was not going to go into all the decisions that were made over the years, some by the Renfrew Board and some by the Lennox & Addington Board, but he spoke of his memories of the “school fairs and agricultural fairs when everybody would come, when the school was filled with youngsters playing hockey and broomball.”

He later also commended the board’s facilities manager Glen Carson for the excellent shape in which the school has been kept since its closure. “It’s ready to use today, and I would like to see it used,” he said, repeating a sentiment that was expressed by all those who spoke at the meeting.

One of the ideas put forward was for the building to be used as a seniors’ home.

The question of the school’s “fair market value” was raised several times, with resident Dave Savigny, who was a real estate agent and appraiser for many years, almost having the last word on the subject. Savigny said that market value is determined by the income that the “highest and best use of the building” would produce. He said that because of the school’s location, no one was going to carry on a commercial operation on the site; therefore its highest and best use would be as a community building, which would produce an income of $0. “Therefore” he said, “its market value is $0.”

“Thank you for that input,” replied LDSB Chair Ann Goodfellow. 

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