New Brunswick

Vote to close Saint John school to be held Wednesday for 3rd time

The Anglophone South District Education Council is expected to vote on whether to shutter a K-5 school near Grand Bay-Westfield.

Anglophone South DEC will vote to keep or close Morna Heights School at 7 p.m. Wednesday

Two public consultation meetings were held to discuss the future of Morna Heights School. The results will be discussed at the District Education Council meeting Wednesday night, before a final vote is held. (Morna Heights School)

The Anglophone South district education council is expected to vote on whether to shutter a K-5 school near Grand Bay–Westfield.

Council chair Rob Fowler said the vote to close Morna Heights at Wednesday night's meeting will be close.

"I think that, as always, communities make a good case for what they feel they have and they don't want to lose," he said. 

"But there are some hard economic realities and things that we need to consider for the overall health of the district."

This is the third time Morna Heights has been threatened with closure. Proposals to close it were made in 2011 and again in 2015, but both times it was saved after public outcry.

Fowler said the school is on the chopping block because of declining enrolment, deteriorating infrastructure, and health and safety concerns.

Enrolment at Morna Heights has dropped 49 per cent since 2004, the district council previously said. There are now around 70 students attending the school. If the closure goes ahead, the students will be transported to Saint Rose School, which is nine kilometres away.

"It's immaterial in terms of transportation," he said.

Community impact

Leslie McKinley, Home and School president at Morna Heights, previously told CBC the school plays an important part in the community, and its small size is a strength because it brings students, teachers and parents closer.

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

Fowler said the district had two public consultation meetings over the last few months. The results of the consultation will go on the record Wednesday before the vote.

If the vote recommends closure, they will send that request to the minister of education. If the vote is a majority "no," then "nothing else happens after that, it dies right there," Fowler said.

Either way, the final decision is up to Education Minister Dominic Cardy.

Rob Fowler, chair of the Anglophone South District Education Council, says the vote to keep Morna Heights School open, or close it, will take place Wednesday night. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The last time a closure was suggested, the district planned to close three schools — Morna Heights, Inglewood and Grand-Bay Primary — and build a new school.

Now that option is off the table, because enrolment has dropped below 270 for the three schools, Fowler said.

"I can't see the province ever spending $20 million plus on a school of less than 300 kids. It just doesn't make sense," he said.

Infrastructure concerns

Fowler says the specific infrastructure concerns include roofing, wall leakage, and lack of potable water. The school has been bringing bottled water for years, he said.

He said the school repair and maintenance estimate is around $1 million over the next 10 to 15 years.

The meeting will be held at the Woodward Avenue office at 7 p.m.

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

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