Province backtracks on plans to build new school in Eastern Shore industrial park
Education minister says decision 'set aside' to allow for further community consultation
The province is backtracking on a decision to build a new school in an industrial park in East Chezzetcook, N.S.
The location for the new school, a consolidation of Gaetz Brook Junior High and Eastern Shore District High that would serve about 800 students, was announced in a news release from the Department of Education on Feb. 2.
On Thursday, Education Minister Derek Mombourquette announced the decision would be "set aside" while the department discusses potential sites with the community.
He said it's clear the community wants more engagement in the process and he's "happy to embrace" that, but noted it doesn't necessarily mean the industrial park is entirely off the table.
"I'm setting aside the decision that has been made previously. I don't want to prejudge what the final outcome will be," he said.
Municipality not on board
David Hendsbee, the municipal councillor for the area, said rethinking the location for the school is the right move.
"An industrial park setting in an isolated area is not an appropriate place," he said.
Halifax regional council had already sent the province a letter objecting to the original selection, pointing out the industrial park had no municipal water or sewer services.
"I don't think it was a well thought-out plan. The concept's nice, but the location is terrible," Hendsbee said.
He suggested a number of alternative sites, like a highway depot on Highway 207, the land across the street from the arena in Musquodoboit Harbour or even the existing high school.
"We haven't seen the site selection information about the existing school sites. Can there be compatibility or use of the current locations? There is adjacent property available at the high school," he said.
Some people who live in the area took issue with the selection process, taking matters to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on March 10.
The applicants are looking for a judicial review of the transportation minister's "failure to provide information to the public" concerning the site selection process as well as the decision of the education minister, who at the time was Zach Churchill, to locate the new school in the East Chezzetcook industrial park.
Matthew Randell, one of the three applicants, wonders if the best decision was made for children, the school, the province and the community.
Randell grew up in Chezzetcook, and has young children who will eventually attend the consolidated school, slated for completion in 2023-24. He said today's announcement is welcome news.
"I can see that they're taking it seriously. It's never been our intention at all to try and delay the project," he said.
The lawyer who filed the court documents, Jamie Simpson, said it's possible the judicial review will not need to go ahead, but his clients would like to see exactly what the minister is planning to do with respect to the public consultation.
Petition in support
Not all of the community response to the initial decision to build the school in an industrial park was negative.
A petition to show support for the "much needed" school in the community has been making the rounds online, and has garnered more than 500 signatures so far.
The province will provide more details about the community consultation next week after March Break is over.