I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the days of SCITS, Sarnia’s oldest school, are numbered.
The Lambton Kent District School Board has begun an accommodation review to look at combining SCITS and St. Clair Secondary into one school at the St. Clair site on Murphy Road.
These reviews don’t inevitably end in closure, but the odds of the gracious building that opened in 1922 on Wellington Street surviving are extremely thin.
And what a shame.
Sarnia Collegiate traces its origins to a small grammar school in 1851 and over the years and in several locations has produced thousands of successful graduates, including a provincial premier, Ontario’s first female lieutenant governor, a Supreme Court chief justice and a Governor General Award winning novelist.
But the reality is sobering:
* The school board’s rate of enrolment decline is 1.6% a year, nine times the provincial average.
* SCITS is already half empty, with 515 students rattling around in a school built for 1,050.
* Top-up funding that’s now available will disappear under a new provincial funding model.
* SCITS requires $17.7 million in building upgrades over the next decade.
* And closing it will save taxpayers $1.1 million a year in staff reductions and operating costs.
The goal of all accommodation reviews is fewer and fuller schools. They are more cost-efficient and can give students those all-important “extras,” like a good music program or theatre arts.
In this case, the board intends to apply for capital funding to improve the facilities and programs at St. Clair. They include an auditorium or theatre, track and field upgrades, refurbished classrooms, manufacturing and horticulture technology programs, and a program centre for students from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.
If approved, St. Clair’s 593 students would move to SCITS next September for one year, while St. Clair is renovated. The students would all shift back to St. Clair in 2017, leaving Sarnia with yet another empty building.
The Lambton-Kent board has already locked the doors on 14 elementary and two high schools since 1989.
I hope I’m wrong, but the board will almost certainly add SCITS to the list next year.
But if it does, there is a way for trustees to honour the school’s 164-year history in Sarnia, and that is to at least retain the SCITS name and give it to the newly consolidated school.
There is a precedent. The Catholic school board did something similar when it blended two city high schools and kept the name with heritage, St. Patrick’s.
St. Clair is a great high school and has a perfectly good name, but rechristening the combined school Sarnia Collegiate could preserve a legacy that’s almost as old as Sarnia itself.