School in Liberal riding to be replaced despite board saying it's not necessary

A school that has received millions of dollars in renovations and upgrades in recent years is being replaced. The province wants to build a new school to replace J.L. Ilsley despite the fact the Halifax Regional School Board refused to put it on its new school wish list last March.

School board rejected motion to put J.L. Ilsley in Spryfield on new construction list last March

A motion to put J.L. Ilsley High School on the list of schools to be replaced was defeated at a Halifax Regional School Board meeting less than a year ago. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government will build a high school to replace J.L. Ilsley in Spryfield, even though it's undergone millions of dollars in renovations in recent years and the Halifax Regional School Board has not asked for a new one.

In fact, a motion to put J.L. Ilsley on the list of schools to be replaced was defeated at a board meeting last March 30.

Former board member Christy Linders was one of five people to defeat the motion.

She said the inclusion of a new school in the province's capital spending plan surprised her.

'If we're broke, we're broke'

"If we're broke, we're broke" she said. "We can't spend it on extras. If an [alteration or addition] would do a really good job, make that school in great shape, then that's probably the better use for the money that we could spend."

Ron Heiman, the school board's director of operations services, said during a meeting last March that J.L. Ilsley had received about $2.5 million worth of renovations and upgrades in the past few years. He said the school could use another $4 million of work.

The decision to build a school to replace J.L. Ilsley was included in the list of capital spending projects the government released Wednesday, but there was no accompanying news release highlighting it.

It has been normal practice for such high-profile announcements to warrant, at least, a separate release if not a full-fledged news conference.

Linders said news of the new school caught her off guard in light of the auditor general's recent criticism of schools being built without justification.

J.L. Ilsley in Liberal riding

Auditor General Michael Pickup singled out a new high school being planned for Eastern Passage, as well as new schools in Bridgetown and Tatamagouche. All are in Liberal-held ridings, including one in premier Stephen McNeil's and another in Education Minister Karen Casey's.

J.L. Ilsley is in the riding held by backbench Liberal Brendan Maguire, who celebrated the announcement on Twitter, calling it the "proudest moment" of his career.

Linders called this another example of the province not listening to school boards.

"I'm sure that people are very happy to be getting a new school, but I don't know that that is the best use of money given the needs that there are in the rest of the province and the rest of [the Halifax Regional School Board]."

'It just makes sense'

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said the department budgeted and spent $3 million on renovations and repairs at J.L. Ilsley over the past five years, including $1.7 million in fiscal 2015-16. 

Education Minister Karen Casey was unavailable to answer questions Wednesday but offered a written statement.

Education Minister Karen Casey says building a new school in Spryfield 'just makes sense.' (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Given the amount of work required to bring the large existing facility up to standard, it just makes sense to replace the school," the statement said. 

"Considering declining enrolment and the need for significant upgrades, a new school was recommended. We will build the school to fit the projected needs of the community. It comes down to investing wisely and making sure the community has a modern learning environment for many years to come."

Enrolment has declined over the last decade to 672 students in 2015 — half its capacity of 1,356, according to the school board's 2016 long-term outlook.

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