New Brunswick

Morna Heights School under threat of closure for third time

Morna Heights School in west Saint John is once proposed for closure, but parents are gearing up for a fight.

Closure of Saint John school would see about 75 students transferred to school about nine kilometres away

Morna Heights School survived two earlier proposals for closure, one in 2011 and the other in 2015. (Morna Heights School)

The future of Morna Heights School in west Saint John is once again in doubt.

Proposals to close the K-5 school were made in 2011 and again in 2015. Last week, the Anglohone South district education council held a meeting at the school to present the community with a third proposal for closure.

Declining enrolment, a deteriorating building, and health and safety issues were among the reasons the council gave for deciding the school should be closed. 

Enrolment at Morna Heights has dropped 49 per cent since 2004, and there are now 72 students, the council said in its presentation. Maximum capacity for the school is 145 students.

Teachers at Morna Heights would be placed in other schools. (Courtesy Gillian Goldie)

The first two times the school was proposed for closure, parents successfully fought to keep it open. Now, Lisa Carter, chair of the parent school support committee, is gearing up for another fight. 

"We just feel that some of the points that they're making may not be exactly valid or may need some further investigation," Carter said. 

The district education council is concerned that the school's well water continues to fail monthly bacteria tests, and potable water has to be brought in.

"A lot of the schools have filtered water that they have brought in," Carter said. "We're not alone in that."

The school building also requires more than $1 million in capital improvements, including updates to the roof, windows, heating and ventilation systems and the installation of a lift inside the building to make the building fully wheelchair accessible. 

Carter said nothing has been spent on the building since it was first proposed for closure, which doesn't help the school's ability to attract and retain students.

The council presentation said no major capital improvement projects have been completed over the last five years.

Centre of community

Leslie McKinley, Home and School president at Morna Heights, said the school's small size creates strong bonds between students, teachers and parents.

"The school is a focal point, is the heart of the community," she said.

Currently, Morna Heights students go on to River Valley School for middle school. The proposal for closure would transfer K-5 students to Saint Rose School, about nine kilometres away, which they could reach by bus.  

There will be another meeting for parents and community members to comment on the proposed closure of the school. A date for that meeting hasn't been set. A third and final district education council meeting will be held in January 2020,  when a vote will take place on whether to close the school.

Ultimately the final decision will be up to Education Minister Dominic Cardy. 

If it is decided the school will be closed, the closure will come into effect in June 2020 after classes are out, said Robert Fowler, chair of the Anglophone South district education council.

McKinley and Carter are optimistic about their chances of keeping the school open.

"I understand that it's a tight economy right now, but maybe there's other places that we can save and other things that can be reviewed," Carter said.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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