By Tina Comeau
Some stood before members of the school board telling them that closing Arcadia Consolidated School would break their hearts, while others who spoke at a Feb. 20 public hearing said shutting down the elementary school would rip the heart out of the community.
“A lot of decisions are made based on dollars and cents, but to close our school, the centre of our community, this one doesn’t make any sense,” said parent Frank Grant, a former student of the school who said having his own children attend this school is what his family based its decision on when it came to choosing where they would live.
“It’s more than a school,” he said. “It’s a community.”
For two-and-a-half hours the Tri-County Regional School Board heard from around 40 presenters who gave their reasons and arguments for why this school should remain open. Arcadia School, which has 194 students, is one of three schools under review by the school board – Central and South Centennial being the other two. This was the first of three public hearings, one for each school, to be held as part of the school review process. Around 200 people attended the hearing.
Before the hearing began, members of the Acadia First Nation Sunset Drummers performed an honour song, with Melanie Robinson telling board members the school is very important to the Mi’Kmaq community.
This was later echoed by Acadia First Nation Chief Deborah Robinson, herself a former student of the school.
“You’re looking at someone whose roots and culture is not only in my Mi’Kmaq blood, but it is here. I look around and I see some of those teachers here who I hold the deepest respect for and were probably the greatest teachers of my life,” said Robinson, who, when describing the school said, “I don’t know if I can say I’ve ever seen a stronger sense of community.”
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Closing the school, she said, “Would be an unacceptable loss to all of our community.”
Parents, grandparents, current and former teachers, past, current and future students and community members gathered in the gymnasium of the school for the public hearing. There was laughter when people reminisced about the school, there were pleas to keep the school open and there were tears, particularly when some students broke down at the microphone while begging the school board to keep their school open.
The school has a large population that justifies keeping its doors open, people said, yet it’s a small enough school that the students pretty much all know each other’s names.
The lack of a proper gymnasium has been cited in a school board impact assessment report as a downfall at the school, yet many former students and others talked about the successes they had as athletes both at the school and after they graduated from it.
Parent John Levac spoke about school deficiencies identified in the school board’s report. He questioned whether items identified as deficiencies were really necessary work and said the costs of maintenance and repairs outlined in the report seemed excessive.
“I question where you came up with these costs,” he said, noting he would want to see a request for proposals to determine what the true costs would be. In said in other cases costs were assigned to retrofit work when the specific work itself was not spelled out.
“If we can’t refute the costs there is no reasons to include these costs as a reason to close the school,” he said, adding the school should not be closed because the board has improperly spent its capital budget over the years.
Levac and others also alluded to a report – and the money the board spent on it – that was prepared by Jim Gunn, a former school board superintendent and an education consultant hired by the school board to study schools in the area. Gunn recommended that Arcadia School not close.
Many people who spoke during the hearing talked about the deep affection they feel for this school.
“I don't know where to start, except that this was the room I first kissed my husband in,” said an emotional Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood, when reminiscing about the year she spent at the school as a Grade 9 student – a year that she called the best of all of her years spent in school. The school went up to Grade 9 before Maple Grove opened. “The minute I stepped foot in this school my complete life changed. It's the best thing that ever happened to me.”
While many people spoke about the education that happens within the walls of the school, many also highlighted the huge asset the school and its outdoor play spaces and nature trail, presents to Arcadia and surrounding communities – a loss, they said, that would be immeasurable.
The hearing ended with a petition to keep the school open, containing around 1,000 signatures, was passed over to the school board.
The options the school board has concerning this school are to keep it open, to move students to Plymouth School or to merge the student population in an elementary school with Central and South Centennial students. The board will make its decision at a March 26 meeting.