A Few Monday Night Thoughts – New Schools Edition

  • On Tuesday night the school board is putting forward it’s list of Capital projects.
    • There are 7 new schools being proposed, 4 of which have a recommendation for trustees to vote on. I am going to focus on my backyard specifically Marlborough School as well as the proposed a brand new West/South Windsor School.
  • Let’s begin with the new school, as I blogged in Nov 2020 a new West/South Windsor school was identified as being needed in the PARC that fall with both Northwood and Westgate schools being over capacity.
    • If you want to review the accommodation plan report the link is now dead and I couldn’t find the report in the meeting minutes etc. The 2019 plan is still available.
link to 2020 accommodation plan
  • For this new West/South School the question becomes where does that school go. It is supposed to be 58,000 sq ft and a capacity of 538 students.
    • Currently West Gate pulls all the Ward 2 students North of Tecumseh Rd, while Northwood pulls all of the Ward 10 students south of Tecumseh Rd and North of EC Row. Given the placement of these schools it could lead to weird boundaries where students North of West Gate could end up at this new school that will likely be somewhere south of Tecumseh Rd.
West Gate School Boundaries
Northwood Boundaries
  • What this issue shows is the failure of planning at the school board as this issue wouldn’t exist if the former Benson School was still open.
    • This leads to the question, was closing Benson a mistake? What is really needed is a school north of West Gate (which then becomes a geographically situated middle school) and (new) Benson picks up students north of ERT tracks. Meanwhile West Gate could expand its boundaries south of Tecumseh road relieving pressure on Northwood. A Northern school could also more easily bridge into the Downtown core to support and partner with Dougall Public School.
    • If the new school goes somewhere south of Tecumseh you then get a some strange boundary challenges where students who live north of West Gate go past the school every day to go to a school south of Tecumseh.
      • One West Gate area that could flip would be between the rail line and Crawford to the new school boundary without too much border gore but overall it is a bit of a hot mess!
  • Then is the question where does this new school go?
Map of the area
  • Given that both West Gate and Northwood (Red Squares) only service East of HCR (red line). The green line is the happy fun space that is the South Cameron Woodlot – that is or isn’t environmentally sensitive depending on who you ask. Development may come to that space but the question is does the school board wish to take that risk?
  • The other options that do not require purchasing of land from existing residential homeowners is right next to the CN rail line on or near South Cameron, adjacent to industrial or commercial land OR Superior Park, removing a City park and replacing it with a school.
  • There is some development space south of Northwood near EC Row as well but again that leads to a hot mess of school boundaries as the new school would end up further south than Northwood.
    • There are two French board schools in these areas (right near Superior park) could they maybe work out some deal on that land?
  • Also what family of schools will this new school feed into? Massey is already over capacity, but the other West End schools feed into Westview Freedom Academy. These schools have very different reputations and perceptions in the community.
  • I feel like the better option to solve the over capacity issues of these schools is to look South and West for space rather than trying to fill in a blank.
    • There are capacity gaps in the Downtown Core schools identified in the PARC. South Windsor family of schools are already at capacity, so shifting students there isn’t really an option.
  • This brings us to Marlborough.
    • Their suggestion is to build a new school on the site of Marlborough for 490 students. The problem is that as of the PARC in Nov last year an expected population of 499 in the school. I hear Sept 2021 registration is north of 520. In other words they are planning to build a school for the current population YET expected number of students in the French immersion program is still growing.
  • The school board is building a school that will require portables the moment it is built! Good job team!
    • The new school outlined above that is somewhere in West/South Windsor doesn’t relive this student population. so why not plan for a 700 student school and build something that can relieve pressure on the other side of HCR.
      • The rebuttal to this from the school board is that the ministry doesn’t fund that, yet you see schools in other boards being built to accommodate more than the bare minimum so why not here?
    • You will also notice that neither Marlborough or the new W/S School have community space or early childhood centres included in their design.
      • Although the Kindergarten rooms could be used as ECE space, it isn’t clear from these proposals.
    • Marlborough in pre-COVID times was also home to a robust breakfast/lunch program. The plan is for a 210 sq ft kitchen/servery which isn’t a ton of space, despite the school supporting a lower socio-economic areas of the West End.
    • To build this school will likely result in the removal of baseball diamonds that are utilized by West Windsor Minor League Baseball. It’s not like West Windsor hasn’t lost amenities already.
    • As for Marlborough itself the school isn’t planning on any community space. The Marlborough Community centre currently city owned and scheduled to be torn down in 2022. This was the first municipal divestment from West Windsor in the early 2000s.
Open Photo
City owned island within the school
  • The little octagon is the city own property in the middle of school board land, also don’t forget the land across the street from Marlborough is also school board owned but apparently residentially zone but not developed since the 1920s.
  • Of course this new school build is all predicated on the fact that the existing building is already on the heritage registry (not formally listed). The building is one of three Heritage buildings that reside west of Huron Church road and South College Ave (can you guess the other two).
    • If the building can’t truly be saved, then how is this heritage going to be maintained? Did it get to this point through willful ignorance?
    • It is true sometimes a new building is needed, but given the cookie cutter school proposal and footprint you are removing a unique feature of a neighbourhood and replacing it with a box.
  • Lucky for the school board with the exception of a bit of land owned by the City of Windsor for the closed community centre, they can use the baseball diamonds and soccer field for a new school, but what happens if the existing building gets added to the registry?
    • Suddenly you have a new school with no soccer field or playground?
  • Given the school board can barely shovel snow around Marlborough without being publicly shamed what trust should parents or the community put into this plan?

Values Driven Leadership

  • There is an opportunity for the GECDSB to lead on these issues.
    • You are submitting a plan to the ministry, great! You can strengthen that plan by reaching out to the community.
    • Don’t want to deal with a potential heritage designation, reach out to the City and think about how a regenerated Marlborough fits into an amenity starved part of the City.
      • Maybe put some of the cost savings from a more efficient building into community amenities.
      • There is a City Park that is right next Marlborough to the school that is underutilized. Do you have a vision for the park?
      • For the love of god, if you own the vacant lot, do something with it! Give it to weCHC for a $1 lease 100 years so infill can occur and families can live there and send their kids to Marlborough.
    • You are reaping what you sowed with your closures in 2010s of Benson and arguably other schools. How do you make sure this doesn’t happen again?
  • Lastly, plan better! A common theme since I have been watching the school board is that it is constantly surprised by surges and shifts in population. You are spending increasingly limited tax dollars on new schools. The question you have to ask is what value is being generated for the community beyond replacing and old building with a new one.
  • Fundamentally the school board’s mantra to date has been a balance budget or a nice surplus is an end, rather than a means to an end. Maybe it is time to live up that equity value and invest in parts of the City that has been historically under invested in?

To Trustees the questions I would ask Tuesday Night!

  • Will the GECDSB build on environmentally sensitive lands in the South Cameron Woodlot?
  • Is GECDSB going to build on the only formal park (Superior Park) in this part of Ward 10?
  • Have there been conversations with other boards about co-habitation?
    • Has there been any consultation with the school communities?
  • What is ability to move students across HCR to Marlborough and plan for a larger school?
    • Have you engaged partners on either of these schools for potential community hubs or other in school partnerships?
  • Would a school be better situated North of West Gate?
  • How will this additional school in Ward 2/10 potentially impact Downtown schools that were identified in the PARC as not at capacity. Core schools (Kennedy Family of Schools) have been identified a number of times as not fully utilized. Both Dougall (328 students) and Queen Victoria (469 students) boundaries are adjacent to what will be this new school (and West Gate)?
  • What school family will the new West/South School be in? Massey, Westview or another?
  • Why is Marlborough being built at a size that is already at capacity based on the PARC of Nov 2020?
    • Given the expected growth of French Immersion what is the plan for additional capacity?
    • Do you plan to phase out English education at Marlborough to relive capacity challenges that are already present? If yes, where do those learners go?
  • What happens if the school (Marlborough) get formally designated heritage site?
  • Why is the school board fundamentally keep missing in it’s modelling the shift in the housing market?

One thought on “A Few Monday Night Thoughts – New Schools Edition

  1. Pingback: A Few Thoughts on Week 62 | gingerpolitics

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