Forster high school on chopping block Monday night

The Greater Essex County District School Board will decide J.L. Forster secondary school's fate Monday night.

Grads and business people fighting to save school they call 'heart of community'

J.L. Forster secondary school has been around for 90 years and could close in 2014. (CBC News)

The Greater Essex County District School Board will decide J. L. Forster secondary school’s fate Monday night.

The board is to vote on whether to close the 90-year-old building.  Board officials say it’s operating at less than half its capacity.

West end businesspersons and residents desperately want the school to remain open.

Mohamad Elmosri owns and operates Pizza Plus across the street from the school.

"Teenage kids, they want to eat. It’s very important to me, that school," Elmosri said. "It would screw up my business. I have seven or eight employees. When school’s in, I have many guys working. I’ll have to give layoffs. How am I going to pay my bills?"

Elmosri said he employs eight people and will have to hand out layoff notices if the school closes. He intends to address the school board Monday night before the vote.

John Muir is a 1959 graduate of Forster. He went on to live and work in the west end, where he was eventually a principal at two elementary schools there.

"What attracts people to a community? You need to have a school," Muir said. "This school is the heart of the community. We need to do whatever we can to save it. By putting in a new school, with new programs, it will assist in building the community."

The west end is littered with vacant businesses and boarded up homes. Closing the school will compound those problems, Muir and Elmosri said.

"If you walk around here, you’ll see all the boarded up houses and the dilapidation of the area and it would be pretty hard to say I’ll choose this over south Windsor," Muir said.

Indian Road, for example, is a string of boarded up homes owned by the Ambassador Bridge company.

"The west end is empty. They don’t keep anything in it," Elmosri said. "They make the west end empty land for mice and rats to play. They should give attention to us. We’d love to have better business in the area."

Muir said good things are happening on the west end. There are plans to move the Port Authority’s head office to the area and HMCS Hunter will soon be built at the foot of Mill Street.

Closing Forster will "derail" the resurrection of the west end.

"Good things are happening. Positive things are happening in the community," Muir said. "Closing this school would be a big mistake."

One of the board’s recommendations is to close Forster in 2014 and transfer its students to Century high school. If the schools merged, the board claims it would save $11 million a year.