Why a Flamborough school bus ride takes as long as a Toronto commute

Last week Robert Safko noticed that his eldest son had a very long bus ride from school to home in West Flamborough, so he took to the road to find out exactly how long.
Zena Bainbridge, 2, holds a Millgrove sign at Hamilton city hall council chambers on Tuesday. Millgrove supporters packed the chambers for the public school board's public delegation night about West Flamborough schools. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Last week Robert Safko noticed that his eldest son had a very long bus ride from school to home in West Flamborough, so he took to the road to find out exactly how long.

He and his 13-year-old son got in the car, and his son navigated them through the bus route he takes to get from Freelton to Spencer Valley.

“I said, ‘Where do we go next?’ He said, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ And I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Safko recalled.

Upcoming HWDSB accommodation review delegation nights at Hamilton City Hall

East Hamilton — Monday, May 5, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Central Mountain — Tuesday, May 6, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

To speak at a session, delegates must register by noon on the day of they wish to attend. To register, contact Tracy McKillop by email at tmckillo@hwdsb.on.ca or by phone at 905-527-5092 ext. 2261.

For more information, go to the school board's elementary accommodation review page.

“We just kept winding around and making U turns, driving around the catchment area, and by the time we got back, it was 36.7 kilometres.”

Safko’s son’s one-way bus ride is nearly an hour and a half some afternoons. It’s the same distance as from their home to Mississauga along Highway 5 if they were, along the way, to hit 28 consecutive stoplights. That’s onerous for adults in air-conditioned cars, he said, let alone kids on a bumpy school bus.

Safko was among dozens of presenters at a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board meeting at Hamilton city hall about the West Flamborough accommodation review committee (ARC).

Board looking at closing three schools

The board is looking at closing three schools (Seaton, Millgrove and Greensville) and building or expanding Beverly Central, and building a new 525-student school at Spencer Valley. Like most of the parents there, Safko wanted Millgrove to stay open.

West Flamborough timeline

​April 29: delegation night

May 26: standing committee makes a decision

June 16: board ratifies decision

Safko has two children at Millgrove, and fears they’ll end up on a similar bus route. Right now, their trip takes 25 minutes each way.

“When he comes home, he’s more drawn out. He sits on the couch,” Safko said of his oldest son.

That sort of hour-long stop-and-start commute is hard on adults, he said, “and this is a nice sedan we drive in, not in a bouncing, noisy, sometimes diesel-fueled, non-air conditioned type of ride.”

Keeping Millgrove open “a no brainer" parent says

His son leaves Spencer Valley at 2:30 p.m., he said, and gets home as late as 3:55 p.m. some days. Keeping Millgrove open is “a no brainer."

Other Millgrove supporters brought up the school’s homey small-town environment and its high standardized test scores, as well as its occupancy rate of about 80 per cent. Councillors Judi Partridge, Robert Pasuta and Brian McHattie all spoke in favour of keeping Millgrove. Pasuta also urged against building a 525-student school at Spencer Valley.

Robert Safko said closing Millgrove will mean longer bus rides for many children. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“That’s just too many kids in a group” for the rural way of life, he said.

Not everyone agreed. David Arbuckle, representing the Greensville school council, took to the microphone to support the closure of Millgrove, Greensville and Spencer Valley.

Greensville parents realize the board’s pressures, such as increasingly empty classrooms and higher capital maintenance costs, he said.

Chair Jessica Brennan asked for a staff report on the travel times Safko mentioned. Provincial policy dictates that children not travel longer than 20 kilometres on a school bus, said Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

McMeekin said he supports keeping Millgrove open, and if the board wanted to build new schools at Spencer Valley and Beverly Central, “I would be a passionate supporter of that.”

The board's standing committee will make a decision on west Flamborough on May 26, followed by a board meeting on June 16.

West Flamborough:

  • Close Dr. John Seaton, Millgrove and Greensville schools in June 2016
  • Build a new 350-student school at the Beverly Community Centre or on the existing Beverly Central school site (pending funding from the province), or expand the existing Beverly Central facility
  • Build a new 525-student facility on the site of the current Spencer Valley school (pending funding from the province), or expand the existing building

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