Location, property size, programs more pertinent, board staff says
Members of a volunteer accommodations review committee studying closure options for eight central Mountain public elementary schools are being told to not get hung up on whether some of the buildings are in better shape than others.
Ellen Warling, manager of planning and accommodation, said a facilities condition index, or FCI, that assesses a school’s repair needs against its replacement cost is just one of many factors to be considered when deciding which ones should remain open.
Others include the size and location of the property, and programming opportunities for students, she said, suggesting the committee can recommend replacing a school with a new one if the building is in too poor shape.
“FCI is really a small component,” Warling said at the committee’s second working group meeting at Pauline Johnson School on Oct. 15. “It’s only one of the reference criteria. You really need to weigh all of the reference criteria.”
A staff option proposes to close Queensdale, Eastmount Park and Linden Park public elementary schools as early as next June as part of efforts to cut about 825 surplus pupil spaces at the eight schools.
The plan also calls for Cardinal Heights to be shuttered if the province provides funding for a new school there that would open in September 2017.
The new school would hold 550 students in junior kindergarten through Grade 8, including those in primary grades from neighbouring Pauline Johnson, which would also close.
Several Queensdale parents who attended an Oct. 8 public meeting on the plan challenged their school’s relatively poor FCI rating, arguing it doesn’t take into account expensive upgrades since 2006.
According to staff, the 65-year-old school’s outstanding repair bill represents 55 per cent of the cost of a new school – the worst rating of the eight schools – a number that will jump to 66 per cent in 10 years.
Michael Prendergast, the area’s school superintendent and non-voting chair of the review committee, said staff will provide a rationale for the FCI rankings at the next working group meeting at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29 at G.L. Armstrong school.
But like Warling, he also cautioned against putting too much emphasis on them, urging members to consider the bigger picture.
“Even if all our schools were in 100 per cent mint shape, we’d still have far too many empty spaces in our facilities,” he said, suggesting the recent public meeting shouldn’t be the sole gauge of the public’s reaction.
About 150 people attended the session, many of them wearing red to show support for keeping Queensdale open.
“There was good public representation. That was in the numbers. I’m not sure that was indicative of the (eight) communities we represent,” Prendergast said.
“That’s where we have to determine, are the voices of many the voices of everyone,” he said. “It’s not about one community being louder than another.”
The next public meeting is set for Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. at G.L. Armstrong, but the committee won’t present any of its own alternative options until a third public meeting at Queensdale school on Dec. 3.
The committee is scheduled to finalize its recommendations to the board on Jan. 28, with trustees set to make a final decision in May.
Members plan to tour all eight schools by the end of the year, but got off to a bumpy start last week when the smell of smoke cancelled a walk through Cardinal Heights and fire trucks were called to the Bobolink Road school.
Board spokesperson Jackie Penman said firefighters determined that someone had lit a small fire outside the building and the smoke had seeped under the school’s doors.
A tour of Pauline Johnson, currently home to students in JK to Grade 5, did proceed as planned.