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Photo by Richard Leitner

Photo by Richard Leitner

A teddy bear mascot helped Linden Park parents make their presence hard to miss at Monday's public school board meeting, where trustees voted to close the central Mountain elementary school and two others.

Three central Mountain schools to close

Final Linden Park appeal fails to sway trustees from staff plan

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The giant teddy bear mascot sporting their school’s T-shirt and ball cap made their presence in the public gallery tough to miss, as did signs by the entrance and along the back wall imploring trustees to save Linden Park.

But the last-ditch appeal didn’t sway the outcome on Monday, as their own trustee, Lillian Orban, immediately moved a resolution supporting a staff plan to close Linden Park, Eastmount Park and Cardinal Heights next June.

Passed by a 9-1 vote, the plan was among three options for the eight central Mountain schools covered by a closure review, one of which would have spared Linden Park.

“I’m so sorry and sad about it,” Orban said, suggesting the board can explore potential partnerships, like daycare, or even a school solely dedicated to environmental studies to make use of Linden Park in another way.

A second part of her resolution won’t allow the school and neighbouring Hill ParkS econdary School to be sold until all approvals and services for the new southeast Mountain high school are secured.

“In my mind, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings,” she said to a smattering of applause.

Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra said both the staff plan and one offered by a voluntary review committee that kept Linden Park open had merits, but enrolment trends tipped the balance in favour of the former.

At 180 students, Linden Park is at just half of capacity, with nearly a quarter of students drawn from outside its catchment boundaries, she said.

“It is centrally located, but it isn’t where the children are,” Turkstra said. “The students actually don’t live there to fill that small school. It’s a small school and it’s only at 50 per cent, so I found that disheartening.”

West Mountain trustee Wes Hicks said the staff plan is a financially responsible choice that won’t require any provincial funding for $3.6 million in upgrades at surviving schools.

It will also only add two school buses, allowing most students to continue to walk, and give the central Mountain five JK-8 schools spread over all geographic areas, he said.

“This is the change that this board is committed to,” Hicks said. “JK-8 schools wherever possible, a 90 per cent capacity and making sure that the elementary and high schools, when we’re finished, they’re state-of-the-art and they’re ready for the 21st-Century learning.”

Only Ward 4 trustee Ray Mulholland voted against the plan, saying he could only support parts but not all.

Afterwards, Linden Park parent George Baier, who lugged the giant teddy bear to the meeting, said he felt “pretty much devastated by the decision,” which will force his two young children to go to Franklin Road School.

They live across from Linden Park.

“Now our kids are going to sit on the bus for an hour and I’m sure we’re going to have to drive them a whole bunch of times as well,” Baier said, criticizing a closure process that ultimately landed on the staff plan.

“They’re basically sucking the public’s time for this involvement and they didn’t even choose any of the ARC recommendations.”

But Queensdale parent Dawn Danko, whose school faced closure under an initial staff option, said the process “recognized and respected community feedback,” even if she felt the resolution to not sell Linden Park just yet was “a token” gesture.

“They really worked to compromise, to meet the communities’ priorities while still meeting their own budgetary constraints,” she said of trustees and staff.

“While we’re happy, as a community we do feel for the other communities who are impacted negatively by this.”

Central Mountain councillor Scott Duvall, who sat in on the meeting, said trustees faced a difficult decision made necessary by inadequate provincial funding.

But he questioned if they are truly interested in turning schools into community hubs, as suggested by the Linden Park resolution.

“I haven’t seen any kind of leadership or offering to use the schools for something else, other than, ‘You buy it, you can do whatever you want with it,’ So where’s the partnerships?” he said.

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