A tug of war between Fredericton and Hanwell over the location of a new school could threaten the chances of either place getting it, New Maryland's former mayor says.
"The school is needed in the region, and are we willing to risk losing it because, 'I don't get it and you do?'" David Wiezel said Wednesday.
'If you want good neighbours you have to be a good neighbour.' - David Wiezel, former mayor of New Maryland
An Ernst and Young report more than a year ago recommended a new school for kindergarten to Grade 8 in the Hanwell Rural Community, just outside Fredericton. The Anglophone West School District then made a school for Hanwell its second-highest priority.
But now Fredericton Mayor Mike O'Brien is insisting Hanwell would be the wrong place, based on population trends.
A study the city commissioned in response to the Ernst and Young report concluded Fredericton should get the next school if the province decides to build one.
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"Governments are not going to spend money in areas that they're going to get criticized for, when it's supposed to be a good thing, like a school or like a hospital," said Wiezel, who was a school trustee in the 1980s and involved in that community's successful efforts to get a school.
Parents in Hanwell are still waiting to hear whether the recommended new school will become a reality.
But the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development confirmed Wednesday night there's no money in next year's capital budget for a new school in the Hanwell area.
Wiezel said Fredericton's "more is better" approach is selfish and taken "at the expense of its neighbours."
"Decisions on where schools go — that's not in their lane," he said. "Surely the mayor of Fredericton has a big enough job to do without trying to do the district education's job."
Wiezel said a school in Hanwell would benefit Fredericton because it would free up classroom space in the city and ease transportation problems in Fredericton.
The Fredericton mayor doesn't understand the role of schools in less developed areas, he suggested.
"The city is mistaking a school for a school, when in fact, in areas like New Maryland and Hanwell, a school is actually a community centre," Wiezel said. "It's a building with facilities that can be used by the public after hours and on weekends."
He used the example of New Maryland Elementary School, where the gym is open to the public for different activities, festivals and community groups.
Village had easier time
When New Maryland was fighting for a school, it didn't encounter the same pushback from its neighbour.
Concerns about busing students into town and overcrowded city schools helped win the New Maryland school, and in the end the decision freed up city classroom space and alleviated transportation problems.
Wiezel said he hopes the city realizes that's what's good for Hanwell can be good for Fredericton.
"If you want it all, other areas have nothing," Wiezel said. "If you want good neighbours you have to be a good neighbour."
O'Brien said the city's report highlighted Fredericton's past and projected population growth and mentioned existing infrastructure that may not be available in Hanwell.
The Hanwell Rural Community, formed in 2014, has about 4,700 people, more than New Maryland, which has about 4,500. Fredericton has about 58,000 people.
"A school strategically located in one of the fastest growing areas in the city of Fredericton, very close to the area that says that they want a school, would benefit everybody," O'Brien said.
The Department of Education has said a request for a new school was submitted by Anglican South West district as part of its capital request list for 2018-19 and the project is being considered along with all other district requests.