By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
Hamilton public school trustees want nearly one quarter of the $350-million available for capital projects in Ontario’s 72 school boards.
A request for $81-million to build three new schools – including a last minute decision to include a new Dundas high school in the mix – was submitted to the Ministry of Education last week. And while some welcome the move as, at least, an attempt for a new Dundas high school, others say enough effort wasn’t made to keep both existing schools open.
But Dundas’ public school trustee says whether it’s new or renovated, there will be only one local high school, and it’s time to start planning for it.
New schools in Hamilton’s north area and south area are marked as priorities over the proposed new high school on Governor’s Road. Even if trustees go with the fall back position of renovating Highland to serve all Dundas high school students after closing Parkside, they will be requesting $71-million – or 20 per cent of the province’s capital budget for Ontario school boards.
Questions were raised about the board’s renovation plans after staff told trustees only $5-million is needed to accommodate all students at Highland after closing Parkside in 2014, not the $15-million in renovations previously mentioned. Board staff explained they would ask the province for at least $10-million in delayed maintenance.
Highland parent Boris Williams is among supporters of a new high school for Dundas who were pleasantly surprised by trustees’ reversal of their original decision to renovate.
“I think there was a realization by the trustees that a significant amount of renovations would be required at Highland, and it made sense to at least make the request for funding,” Williams said. “At the end of the day it’s good news for Dundas. We at least have a request for a new school.”
He said the next task is making it clear to provincial politicians that there is support for a new school in Dundas.
Bob James, one of the founders of Parkside Works, said the trustees’ decision would do what’s needed at Highland, by replacing it with a better building.
“This does not settle the real issues which have been raised in Dundas,” James said. “We still are looking at a school board which is prepared to take valuable public space out of downtown areas, and is willing to close two good schools in this area.”
He suggests the board is not looking at hidden costs associated with closing a Dundas high school.
“They have shown, once again, a lack of vision and a lack of courage. Both schools need to remain open, and renovated to a decent standard.”
Ministry of education spokesperson Garry Wheeler said the 72 business plans submitted by Ontario school boards will each be reviewed to get an understanding of their individual capital needs. Decisions are anticipated by early fall.
Williams is looking forward to a quick decision, allowing Dundas’ two high school communities to move on with the effort of rebuilding one new community after what continues to be a divisive battle.
“As school councils, we want to emphasize coming together,” Williams said.
That’s the same goal of Dundas trustee Jessica Brennan, who said there will be a combined school at the Highland site and local work can start on bringing people together around that fact and starting work on the transition to a one high school community.
Brennan wants to see a new school culture created – recommending the renovated or new school be given a brand new name.
“We have to realize we have a one school community now. It’s going to be at the Highland site. We have to start working on that transition,” Brennan said.
She wants to meet with parent council chairs from both schools in the coming weeks to begin that work, well before senior staff starts looking at board-wide transitions next fall.
Brennan said her colleagues were convinced to support the new school request when it was decided to make it the third priority.
She said she understands the concern of a potential new school in Dundas competing with already proposed new schools in areas with growing enrollment.
“The case for a new school in Dundas is very good. However, Dundas will experience declining enrollment. It’s not as strong a case as, perhaps, the other two,” Brennan said.
And when it comes to requesting a big slice of the ministry’s funding pie, Brennan acknowledges the province-wide competition for limited money.
But she believes the Hamilton public board’s accommodation review and plan is complete well ahead of other boards – and that might put them in a good position.
“Maybe it should be first come, first served,” she said.