Montreal suggests unsuitable sites for future schools to overcrowded CSDM, chair says

Montreal's largest school board received a letter from the City of Montreal outlining available lots of land to build future schools, including sites near highway ramps, oil storage tanks and electrical towers.

Some lots of land can't be built on, others far from residential areas and planned developments

One of the City of Montreal's suggested lots is close to oil storage tanks in the city's east end. (Radio-Canada)

When the woman who heads the Commission scolaire de Montréal first received a letter from the city outlining available lots of land to build future schools, she thought it was a joke.

The list includes land in industrial areas and near oil storage tanks — and some lots can't even be built on, said Catherine Harel-Bourdon.

"There are several sites that are under electrical towers, others are adjacent to train tracks, which makes us think of the Mégantic tragedy," she told Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin.

"Several lots are beside highway ramps."

The 18 proposed lots, owned by the city, include land in close proximity to the Turcot Interchange construction site and the new Bonaventure Expressway.

This is one of the sites near the Bonaventure Expressway and an electrical tower suggested by the City of Montreal for a future CSDM school. (Radio-Canada)

Some are also far away from the residential areas they would serve, said Harel-Bourdon.

She said only a handful "presented opportunities" to build future schools.

"I can't understand how they could propose these kinds of lots when in several files they are written as 'not developable,'" she said. "I can't see how [those] could be developed for a school."

As Quebec's largest school board, the CSDM has been struggling to accommodate a boom in students in recent years, due to a lack of space.

The CSDM, which has French-language schools throughout much of the City of Montreal, as well as the City of Westmount, is home to about 113,000 students.

"We have 1,869 new students this year," said Harel-Bourdon. "What I want are solutions."

"It's going to become more and more difficult."

This proposed location for a future school is near the Turcot Interchange and a set of railway tracks in Montreal's Southwest borough. (Radio-Canada)

No sites in proposed Blue Bonnets area

The lack of space has become so dire that the school board urgently needs to meet representatives of the Quebec government and the city in order to find solutions outside of those suggested, said Harel-Bourdon.

"I was happy when I first read the letter," she said. "It's when we analyzed the proposed sites that we realized it didn't make any sense."
Catherine Harel-Bourdon, who chairs the Commission scolaire de Montréal, says the province's largest school board doesn't have enough space to accommodate a growing number of students. (Radio-Canada)

The city didn't offer any land in neighbourhoods such as Côte-des-Neiges, where schools are already overcrowded, she added.

"What surprises me most about this list is that there's absolutely no proposal for the Blue Bonnets area, which will become a new residential neighbourhood with thousands of new dwellings in the next seven years," she said.

In a statement, city spokesperson Gonzalo Nunez said the the city wasn't given the needs and criteria of the CSDM.

"This list isn't definitive," he said. "The city didn't make its selection of sites by zoning, but only by size."

Mayoral candidates weigh in

Mayoral candidate and Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante criticized the city for not planning ahead when it came to building new schools.

"What I find to be a shame is that right now we're lagging behind. We should have reflected on this question of land to build schools on well in advance."

Denis Coderre, who is seeking a second term as Montreal mayor, accused Harel-Bourdon of bashing his administration in the middle of the election campaign.

"When I said, 'Give us the capacity to build schools,' it's clear that we're going to build them in living spaces where it counts," he said.

"It's not a question of playing with the security of people, so I think those reactions don't really hold water."

With files from Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin