By Tina Comeau
Those who attended a meeting at Arcadia Consolidated School on Thursday night felt their list of reasons why this elementary school should remain open outnumbers any list of reasons why it should not.
Arcadia is one of three schools under review by the Tri-County Regional School Board, the other two being Central and South Centennial.
Just because the schools are under review does not mean any or all of them will automatically close. But it does means that closure is a possibility.
For Arcadia Consolidated School, the options that have been laid out for its future include:
• staying open;
• sending the majority of students to Plymouth School with a couple dozen going to a new or retrofitted elementary school;
• or, closing the school and sending all of the students to a new or retrofitted elementary school, possibly with the student populations of Central and South Centennial.
Around 195 students attend Arcadia School but that enrolment is projected to decline in the upcoming years. Parents, teachers and community members – which included many former students of this school – gathered in the school’s gymnasium on Nov. 29 to discuss the school board’s impact assessment report and the school’s response to it. The lack of a proper gymnasium is one of the issues that has been identified as a shortcoming of the school. But teacher Mitzy Grimshaw-Poole said regardless of its size, this gymnasium has served the students and the community well, which, she said, is reflected in the number of athletes and coaches and referees the school has churned out, in addition to students receiving well-rounded physical education.
“If the argument is the school is not good enough because of this gymnasium, there is no grounds for that,” she said.
Another question that was raised concerned financial figures that are contained in the school board’s report that spell out how much it will cost to repair or replace infrastructure or equipment at the school. Parent John Levac questioned how the board arrived at these figures if it hasn’t been through requests for proposals, as some of the figures seemed high to him and others.
Many questioned why an option would be to move students to Plymouth School when the student enrolment at that school is projected to be less than Arcadia’s in coming years. Why isn’t it the other way around? And has the school board done a proper assessment about the suitability of that school, asked former teacher Jim Rideout.
Several people cited concerns over merging students from three schools into a new elementary school. Bigger is not always better, they said. And often these new schools are built to current capacity, which doesn’t leave any room for growth if things turn around economically in an area. Yes, a new school comes with a new gymnasium, it was noted, , but with a lot of students in one school it often means the gym has to be divided in half for students to use so they have less gym access.
Another concern raised surrounded the possible loss of recreation infrastructure to the community if Arcadia School were to close and playground equipment, as an example, was relocated. The school and community have invested a lot of money and effort into the playground and walking trail, which are widely used outside of school hours.
It was stressed at the meeting that strong community support will be needed as the school presents its case on why the school should stay open. A Facebook page called Save Arcadia School has also been established and there were sign-up sheets for tasks and a petition at the meeting.
There are specific timeframes that must be followed in a school review. By Feb. 1 the schools must file a response to the impact assessment report with the school board. The board must publicly table those responses by Feb. 28. By March 24 the school board must hold a public meeting(s) pertaining to the reviews. The board must make its decision about the schools by March 31.
Last year the school board reviewed four schools. The decision was made to close two of those schools (Westport and Yarmouth Junior High) but to keep the other two (Weymouth and Barton) open.
Meanwhile, two elementary schools that are under review and located in the town of Yarmouth – Central and South Centennial – will continue in the upcoming months to draft the responses they will file with the school board as to whether they think their schools should stay open or close.
The consensus at one of the schools where the issue has already been discussed at a public meeting – this being Central Elementary School – appears to be in favour of closing the school and sending students to a new school.
“The theme, based on what we heard on that night, is our parents are certainly open to a new facility and reason being the lack of gymnasium here, the lack of a cafeteria, the age of the building, the air quality,” says Central School principal Jared Purdy, who also chairs the study committee that’s been formed at the school and it made up largely of the school advisory council.
“Our parents were fairly unanimously in favour of a new facility, simply because of the age of our facility.”
The options that have been laid out for Central and South Centennial schools in impact assessment reports prepared by the school board are to keep the two schools open or to close them and merge their populations into a retrofitted or newly-constructed elementary school.
Amalgamating the two elementary schools would result in a projected student population years down the road of around 340 students, the board’s report states.
Purdy says parents seem comfortable with a school population of that size. However, he says, they are concerned with population figures should the school board decide to merge another school population into the equation, for instance, if the board decides to close Arcadia Consolidated School, which is also under review.
“They still want that small school feel,” Purdy says.
Another thing parents want to know is exactly where a retrofitted or new school will be located, and which of the two options the board will be choosing. The school board has yet to make a final decision about where it would send students, should it close these two elementary schools.
At South Centennial School principal Nancy Walker says while they have formed their study committee, the school hasn’t yet held a public meeting to discuss the situation.
“We are right now reviewing our information and I’m trying to create a rough draft of our response report that we’ll be submitting to the board,” says Walker, noting they likely won’t hold a public meeting at the school until January. “We thought we’d do a rough draft first and then present it to the community and take their information and finalize the report.”
The schools are obligated to file a response report to the school board by Feb. 1. All of the schools intend to hold public meetings prior to that.
Walker says in their response they’ll not only look at what’s best for the school and the students.
“We’re looking at what’s best for the community too,” she says. “This is such a small community and they're so unique.”
As far as enrolments go at the schools, South Centennial went from 179 students in 2006 to 113 students in 2010. However, the five-year projected enrolment between 2012-13 and 2016-17 is only expected to decrease from 116 students to 112. At Central, the enrolment dropped from 273 students in 2006 to 206 students in 2010. But enrolment projections see enrolment climbing from 214 students in 2012-13 to 232 students in 2016-17.