Special to The Journal
There are no guarantees when it comes to school consolidations.
That’s one thing the SAVE SCITS committee and the Lambton Kent District School Board can agree on.
An accommodation review is underway that would see SCITS closed and its students combined with those of St. Clair secondary at the St. Clair site on Murphy Road.
Numerous questions remain, including the contentious one of whether provincial funding is available for a new theatre/auditorium at St. Clair.
That’s one concern for SAVE SCITS committee member Susan MacKenzie, who says current ministry guidelines state that a third-party community partner is needed for a new theatre build.
The board buried that one in paper, MacKenzie said.
“It adds insult to injury. The average layperson can’t read a 160-page report.”
Board chairperson Jane Bryce acknowledged the guidelines are correct, but believes the ministry would be open to a funding request for a new auditorium at St. Clair.
However, there are no guarantee, she admits.
Meanwhile, grassroots support to save the school is growing. A new website is available and volunteers will be hitting the streets soon with signs and flyers.
“The board needs to be more creative in its approach,” MacKenzie said of the recommended closure. Building a community hub, creating a high school that includes Grades 7-8, or even a JK-to-Grade 12 school are just some of the options should be considered to keep the doors open, she said.
An Accommodation Review Committee, (ARC), made up of community members, staff and students selected by the board, is examining the recommendation. It would see St. Clair’s students move to SCITS for the 2016-17 school year while upgrades at St. Clair are completed. All students would return to St. Clair the following year and the historic SCITS building on Wellington Street closed.
The public school board has around 22,000 students, 10,000 fewer than in 1998 when the Lambton and Kent public boards amalgamated. It expects to lose another 1,000 students in five years — the equivalent of two elementary schools.
“We have been creative and still want to be creative,” said Bryce. “But we can’t change facts. We need to do what’s best for the whole board.”
Bryce said if people want to make a difference they should petition the Ontario Education Ministry to secure the funding needed for the consolidation.
Bryce said the board will apply for $14 million for renovations at St. Clair. An additional $12 million will be requested for infrastructure upgrades.
However, the ministry won’t approve a new funding request until trustees vote on the final accommodation review on April 22.
Meanwhile, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has asked council to authorize a staff report to examine what impact closing SCITS would have on Mitton Village businesses, and south end neighbourhoods, and the downtown.
The website for SAVE SCITS can be found at www.savescits.ca.
The next meeting ARC meeting is at SCITS on March 8, at 6:30 p.m.