Why Chapman's Ice Cream is desperate to save local school from closure

With more than 600 public schools slated for closure across Ontario — many in rural areas — The Current visits Markdale where local employer Chapman's Ice Cream has offered millions of dollars to save the local school from closing.
Beavercrest elementary, the only local elementary school in the town of Markdale, Ont., is set to close June 2017. (John Chipman/CBC)

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Across Canada, countless rural and small town schools face survival issues. In Ontario alone, hundreds of schools are being re-assessed.

Can a small community survive without a local school?

The Current's John Chipman explores this question through the story of one small town, Markdale, Ont., — about two hours north of Toronto.

Markdale is home to Chapman's Ice Cream, a family-owned and operated company — the main employer for a town with the population of 1,400.

"It has about 575 employees which jumps to 650 to 700 in the summer. So it really is essential to the local economy. Without Chapmans, it's really hard to see how Markdale could survive," Chipman tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

But Vice-President Ashley Chapman, sees it as going both ways — that Markdale is essential to Chapmans future, and that Beavercrest elementary school slated to close down in June 2017, is essential to Markdale's survival.
The Current's John Chipman takes a tour of Chapman's Ice Cream factory in Markdale, Ont., with VP Ashley Chapman. (John Chipman/CBC)

Last fall, Chapmans offered a multi-million donation to save and replace the school. Ashley tells Chipman there are roughly 50 students at Beavercrest with a parent working at Chapmans. 

But is public education still public if it's funded in part by private money?

"There is certainly a lot of talk about us starting a trend of a two-tier education system, if we were to buy a school, run a school," Chapman says.

"Private money is somehow dirty for education, that whole concept is just not true."

Ashley argues there's already private money in public education. The Bluewater District School Board has charitable status, as do many school boards. Charities and alumni groups raise lots of money for schools.

According to the local board, the Bluewater District School Board, only 61 per cent of Beavercrest Elementary is currently being used by students. And it's projecting that number to drop even more over the next decade. 

The average elementary school in Ontario is running at 86 per cent capacity.

The problem for Markdale students if Beavercrest closes, it's the only school in town.

UPDATE: Beavercrest Community School has been given a reprieve.

Chapman's Ice Cream has offered a $2-million donation toward the cost of building a new school. (Shutterstock)
The only school in tiny Markdale, Ont., was slated to close in June because of declining enrolment and skyrocketing maintenance costs. But after a concerted effort from the community — led by local employer Chapman's Ice Cream — the Bluewater District School Board has reversed course. 

It is now recommending that Beavercrest remain open for two more years while the board continues to explore ways to build a new school in Markdale. Chapman's has offered a $2-million donation toward the cost of building a new school.

On Monday, The Current shared the story of a small town struggling to save their only school from closing. The local company, Chapman's Ice Cream even offered to donate money. Now it seems there's a future for the school so many fought for. 7:34

A Chapman's official said Parataxis Design and Development Corp, an urban planning and architecture firm based in Toronto, has also offered $2 million toward a new school, which is expected to cost $7 million. 

School board trustees will make a final decision on Beavercrest's future on April 18. 

Listen to the original segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman.