Parents, students push for new school on site of old Montreal Children's Hospital

Community groups, parents and the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) have been pushing for a new French-language school in the downtown area, which stretches from Atwater to University streets.

Developer Devimco announced it would not build a school on the site as it initially planned

Protesters started gathering at Cabot Square at 11 a.m. to set up what they call Montreal's first and only open air classroom, complete with desks, blackboards and apples. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Parents in the downtown core are speaking out against the overcrowding and lack of local schools after the plans to develop a new elementary school on the site of the old Montreal Children's Hospital were dashed earlier this week.

Sabine Philippides has lived in the area for 20 years. She says her nine-year-old son Zach goes to Saint-Léon-de-Westmount elementary school, but it's a 20-minute drive.

"We love it here," she said. "We don't want to have to move."

Students, parents and community leaders from the city government and Commission Scolaire de Montréal gathered at Cabot Square Sunday afternoon to call for a new French-language school in the downtown area, which stretches from Atwater to University streets.

Corey Gulkin, a spokesperson for the Peter-McGill community council, said there are currently 406 primary school students in the neighbourhood who have to commute to other areas.

"About 252 of those students are going to Saint-Léon-de-Westmount … which is currently overcrowded," Gulkin said.
Community groups, parents and the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) have been pushing for a new French-language school in the downtown area, which stretches from Atwater to University streets. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Taking extra time to get to school cuts into family and homework time, which is a big problem, she said.

"We need to have accessible education for the kids in the neighbourhood."

Lack of coordination

The developer Devimco is building a $400-million project on the site that includes condos, social housing units, offices, a library and a park. It was also on board to build a new school.

On Thursday, Devimco said it couldn't wait any longer for the school board and provincial education ministry to submit plans for a school to be built on the site.

But Gulkin said a school would take up two per cent of the 1.3 million square feet available on the site.

The city has since called for the developer to continue discussions.

For Graham Singh, whose two children attend Saint-Léon, the fact that a school wasn't included in the development shows a stark lack of proper planning.

"Our view on what's happening here is that we've seen a total lack of collaboration," Singh said.

He said he places blame on the Ministry of Education, CSDM and City of Montreal for being unclear in their plans for the prospective school.

Faced with overcrowding, the CSDM has had to slowly reclaim buildings across the city in order to accommodate a boom in students.

Sabine Philippides and her three and a half year old son, Elias. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Newcomers among those who need a school

Among the flood of newcomers to the neighbourhood are recent immigrants to Canada, like Rihab Yacoub and her young family, who are originally from Syria.

"We came here for the future of our kids," Yacoub said.

Since her children are new to Quebec, they attend classes at the Charlevoix Annex as part of Saint-Léon — but the building is located in Saint-Henri.

Executive committee speaker Cathy Wong leading a "Simon says" activity. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Yacoub has to take a bus and the Metro to pick up her children from the annex.

"I think it is very important for us as parents to have our kids close to us," she said.

With files from Verity Stevenson