by Sandy Lindsay
March 12, 2017
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Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) held the last accommodation review (ARC) meeting on Thursday, March 9th, regarding the closure of Beavercrest Public School in Markdale and Chesley high school.
Thirteen delegations were presented with only one in favour of the school closures.
According to presenter, Aakash Desai, he recently attended a provincial meeting where Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke. "The Premier said that 'school boards are to consider the affect of school closures on the community', yet it seems that this board is unwilling to do that. You could be the board that stood up to the Minister of Education and did what was right."
Paul Bonwick said that he and his partners are investing significantly in the real estate sector in Markdale. As a former municipal counselor in Simcoe-Grey, Bonwick was also an MP for the area surrounding Markdale, including Collingwood, and was appointed to the Privy Council by the then Prime Minister with a mandate for post-secondary education.
As Parliamentary Secretary with a focus on education, he said that he came to realize the importance of elementary school education for students in relative proximity to their homes. "It is the electorate that maintains the ultimate authority in any democracy. Many people paid the ultimate price in defending a democratic society where people have a right to voice their opinion and government has a responsibility to follow the will of the people."
As a developer, he and partners have been targeting areas in Grey Simcoe that are growing and, in Markdale, they will be hosting a new development of homes for existing families and those who want to move to the area.
"I want to be very clear," he said. "Whether it's developers like me or private industry such as Chapman's, there are four considerations when looking to invest millions of dollars in a local economy.
One, understand the demographics and growth strategy. There is a plan that sets out lands for residential development in Markdale. "Markdale currently has the ability to house several hundred new homes as a result of the land designation.
Two, health care services in close proximity. Markdale has been approved for a new health care facility.
Three, a growing labour market. There will be expanded employment for several hundred people over the next few short years.
Four, sustainable development for a community of this size is the ability to provide a school for existing and future children. There can be no confusion on this point. If a family is going to move into this area, having timely access to a local school is one of their most significant considerations. It is the reality that guides investment dollars.
We must look to the future and not the past. Success of a community and the success of the next generation is solely predicated on our ability to focus on solutions that fit the future, not the past. Too often we see political and legal battles that cost a community far more in terms of dollars and lost opportunities. Trustees have the ability to embrace growth and good governance versus a far less desirable outcome. With this reality in mind, I am asking the 'elected' board of Trustees to provide leadership and direction to 'your staff' to work with the municipality and the private sector with the objective of developing a funding solution that will see Beavercrest public school stay open in Markdale. You will be following the will of the people and providing a place for young families to flourish. There are far too many elected officials who wish they could turn back the clock once they experience the consequence of their actions. Hindsight of 20/20 teaches us a lot of lessons. This board has the opportunity to avoid this very serious situation. Extend the life of the school for five years."
Also among the presenters was Ashley Chapman of Chapman's Ice Cream, the primary employer for 43 years in the area with some 600 employees and plans to expand his facility by 100,000 sq. ft to 1,000 within five years.
"It has been clearly stated that school boards in this province should seek out community partners in order to mitigate their deficits due to low enrolment. Well, I am here and willing to enter into a five-year lease tonight to use whatever space is available in Beavercrest school. Beyond our economic concerns and that it's a logistical problem for Chapman's, keeping the school open is simply the right thing to do.
Chapman had offered $2million to relieve the board of its financial burden and was turned down. "One argument was that we were attempting to create a two-tier system in the public education system," he said. "Nothing is farther from the truth and, in fact, it is the Ministry of Education that has created a two-tier system ... urban and rural."
According to Chapman, rising real estate costs throughout southern Ontario and, particularly the GTA and Kitchener-Waterloo, is forcing families to move northward into more reasonably priced real estate. "This is the target demographic that is so very relevant to rural elementary schools and the eventual building of new ones. Shelburne and Dundalk populations are exploding and Markdale is next on the corridor for rapid expansion.
Chapman also went on to say that a private sector developer, Parataxis out of Toronto had recently stepped forward and agreed to match Chapman's two million dollar offer. That makes the offer on the table $4 Million plus the Municipality of Grey Highland's offer of financial help over four years and Chapman has said that Chapman's will also cover any expenses that go beyond those projected by the Municipality. "This is the best deal that the Province and any school board has ever seen."
He pointed out that the Parataxis development at the golf course could potentially result in 300 more children within five years.
"Increasing and relocating the catchment area would immediately provide more students at Beavercrest and he pointed out that MacPhail school, the alternative being held up by the Bluewater Board if Beavercrest closes, is already at capacity since it is the only school offering French immersion in the area. It would also relieve some of the English teachers at the school, increase enrolment and the money from the Ministry."
CEO Chapman's Ice Cream
Chapman also put forward the idea of turning the existing arena into a new school and community hub and he commissioned an architect to come up with a financial cost study for the plan.
"Beavercrest will close but it's a question of when," he said. "All the school needs is a two-year reprieve and the enrolment numbers will increase dramatically. This community has rallied around this school and everyone has put aside their differences to prevent this (closure) from happening.
"You (Trustees) are in a unique position of power to make a decision that can benefit the education of the entire area, which is your primary function at the school board. Stand up to the Ministry of Education. Set an example for the entire province that we will not jeopardize the education of our youth for short-sighted political ambitions or superficial financial considerations that are without merit."
The Bluewater board will be making its final decisions on both the Markdale and Chesley schools and Paisley in early April. Beavercrest is slated for closure in June of this year (2017); Paisley slated for June, 2018; Chesley slated for June of this year (2017).
According to this meeting, and the last ARC delegations meeting on the potential closure of Paisley and Chesley high school, the Bluewater Board has used the Watson Report as its foundation for future enrolment figures. Many presenters have pointed out at both meetings that the Report is outdated and is not applicable to what is happening today in housing developments or the recent Bruce Power announcement that will results in rapid growth in the region.
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Friday, March 17, 2017