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Parents question enrolment projections

By Gord Bowes, News staff

Population growth isn’t being taken properly into account during the central Mountain elementary school closure process, say some parents.
New development south of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway and young parents buying older homes could play a larger role than the public school board is taking into account for its enrolment projections, they say.
Alison Lange, parent of two children who attend Linden Park, said in her old neighbourhood there is a turnover underway which could affect the enrolment projections that are being used.
Many residents in her area are original homeowners. In the past year, five have died and the new home owners have young children.
“Is that being considered?” she asked.
Rachel Kostuk said she feels Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board should be looking more than nine years ahead as it decides what schools should close in the face of declining enrolment.
The enrolment projections being used only take into account the years up to 2022.
New housing developments, such as in the Jerome neighbourhood where the board just traded a 26-acre parcel of land with a developer for a parcel south of Rymal Road for a new high school, can throw a kink into any plans, said Kostuk.
She said she agreed with a suggestion from Queensdale parent Mike Patchett that involves building a new elementary school in the area to replace Ridgemount and Pauline Johnson.
“Why aren’t you thinking ahead if there are going to be more people with children in this area?”
Ellen Warling, the board’s manager of planning and accommodation, says she’s confident in the enrolment projections.
She said the numbers come from census information and projections from the city. While they don’t include any new development at the Jerome site, or Hill Park high school after it is sold later this decade, because there are no registered subdivision plans, it will have little effect.
Warling said the board on average gets one new junior kindergarten student for every four to five new homes that are built, or 20 to 25 for every 100 homes built. For every 10 new homes, the board picks up one high school student.
“It’s not a lot of kids,” she said. “I would consider it to be insignificant … it’s not as if half the land in (the area being reviewed) is yet to be developed. It’s a very small portion that is yet to be developed.”
Warling said even though it’s not clear how many homes will eventually be built on the Jerome land, it is unlikely to be enough to tilt things enough to consider building a school in that area south of the Linc between Upper James and Upper Wellington.
As far as older neighbourhoods, the turnover to younger families is taken into account in the projections.
Information made available to the public during the closure process shows half of Ridgemount’s 260 students are bused — almost twice as many as Pauline Johnson, where 26 per cent are bused. No students are bused to Eastmount, Franklin Road and Queensdale.
Michelle Curtis, who lives in the southern end of Ridgemount catchment area, says for over 10 years residents in the area believed a school would be built on the board’s Jerome property.
“I was so excited because my kids could just walk there,” said the mother of three.
Because of existing school boundaries, her youngest child is bused to Ridgemount, though Helen Detwiler elementary is within walking distance. But she said she isn’t sure there is enough population to support building of a new school.
“That would have been a great thing years ago, but I don’t there would be enough kids (now),” she said.
While Helen Detwiler is closer to Curtis than any other school currently being studied for closure, its borders can’t be discussed as a committee of parents and school staff look at what to do with declining enrolment at Cardinal Heights, Eastmount Park, Franklin Road, George L. Armstrong, Linden Park, Pauline Johnson, Queensdale and Ridgemount.
At a public meeting last week, three options (see sidebar) developed by the committee were discussed. The committee will meet again Jan. 14 and a final public meeting, with finalized options from the committee, is scheduled to be held Jan. 21.
Parent Leanne Friesen, who emceed the public meeting, said the committee wants to hear from the public as it formulates its option.
Answering a question on why none of the options so far include keeping Linden Park open, she said the committee hasn’t found a viable way to do so.
“You can submit that option still and we will take a look at it,” Friesen said. “It’s not off the table to discuss.”
Trustees will decide in the spring which schools will be closed.

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