Nova Scotia

McNeil government to build 9 new schools, will renovate 4

The Nova Scotia government has announced plans to build nine new schools and to renovate or expand another four.

Springhill, Glace Bay getting elementary schools, 3 schools planned for Halifax area

Nova Scotia's minister of education says an anticipated decline in enrolment has been stabilized thanks to the introduction of pre-primary and class caps. (Radio-Canada)

The Nova Scotia government has announced plans to build nine new schools and to renovate or expand another four.

Site selection, the first step in this process, will start this year for three of the new schools.

The process will begin next year for four of the schools and in 2020 for the remaining two.

The list of new schools includes:

  • Bedford Ravines P-9.
  • ​Clayton Park/Fairview junior high.
  • Eastern Shore-area high school.
  • Glace Bay-area elementary school.
  • Northside, North Sydney-Sydney Mines-area junior high.
  • Springhill-area elementary school.
  • Wedgeport-area school.
  • Clare-area school.
  • Halifax peninsula school.

Major renovations are planned for:

  • Breton Education Centre in New Waterford.
  • Ferrisview Elementary in North Sydney.
  • École acadienne de Pomquet.
  • St. Joseph's A. McKay Elementary School in Halifax.

Education Minister Zach Churchill says all the capital projects were evaluated using the same key criteria.

"Every single school on this list has been looked at through three criteria: facilities condition, enrolment and programming pressure," he told reporters at a media briefing in Halifax.

"This list is based on needs of these communities."

'It's very welcome news'

Ally Garber, who has one child attending Basinview Drive Community School in Bedford, said she is "extremely happy" to hear her area is getting a new school.

Basinview is overcrowded due to development in Bedford that has brought new subdivisions and more families into the area.

"We're hundreds of students over capacity so it's very welcome news," said Garber. 

Garber said she wants to know where the new school will be located and how students will be accommodated in the coming school year. She said some of the classes next year will likely need to be relocated to another location because there are so many students.

"It's May right now, we're nearing the end of the school year and we still don't have a solution in place for the hundreds of extra students that we have looking to come to Basinview next year," Garber said.

Basinview Drive Community School is in Bedford, N.S. (CBC)

Stephanie Pitcher, chair of the school advisory council for Basinview, said the news of the new school has spread quickly to parents in the area.

"It's just something we've wanted for a long time and we've needed so they're pretty excited about the news," Pitcher said.

Continuing tradition

Mike Cuvelier, who is on the school advisory council for St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary in Halifax, said he was surprised to hear the school would be getting renovations.

"Renovation-wise, structurally wise, I think there are two pieces of the school: There's an older part that's near 100 years old and there's a newer part that was built on in the '60s and ironically the newer part is in worse shape than the section that's almost 100," Cuvelier said.

Cuvelier said he's hoping the school will maintain "some of the charm of the old part of the school" during the renovation.

St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary is in Halifax. (CBC)

Although the Halifax Regional Centre for Education lists St. Joseph's-Alexander McKay Elementary as being constructed in 1921, Cuvelier said it's actually older. He said the building that stands today opened in 1919, after the historic St. Joseph's School was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion.

"Kids have been going to St. Joseph's A. McKay school for near 100 years and it's a very, very good story if they could continue to go to that school," Cuvelier said.

Michel Comeau, general manager of Conseil scolaire acadien provincial — Nova Scotia's Francophone school board, said he's glad École acadienne de Pomquet will be getting renovations and that Wedgeport and Clare will also be getting a new schools. He said overcrowding is a big issue. He said Pomquet uses three portable classrooms.

"Development has not really kept up with demand so this announcement today certainly will address some significant situations which exist right now," he said.

Purchase of 2 schools

The provincial government is also purchasing two schools, Harbourside Elementary School and Sherwood Park Education Centre, that were built in partnership with a private developer through a deal known as P3.

Both of the Sydney-area schools were slated to close, but the McNeil government has reversed the former school board's decision and purchased the buildings.

Vanessa Childs Rolls is chair of the Sherwood Park Education Centre's advisory committee and part of a parents group that's been fighting to keep the middle school open. Her son Owen is in Grade 7 there.

"I was so excited," she said. "I cannot express in words the feeling I got when I heard that because it's been such a long fight and this is a huge relief. They made the best choice and they made it in the interests of our kid. I could not be happier."

The province is purchasing two P3 schools, including Sherwood Park Education Centre, pictured above, and Harbourside Elementary School. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

Childs Rolls said the decision to close the school was based on a projected decline in enrolment, but she said the school actually saw a 15 per cent increase in students.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the anticipated decline in enrolment has been stabilized, thanks to the introduction of pre-primary and class caps.

Childs Rolls said it didn't make sense to close the school, sometimes called SPEC, which was built in 1997 and has about 350 students. 

"SPEC is a newer school and it was built with the program and curriculum demands in mind. SPEC has been approved to be a pilot school for new curriculum that is program-based. A lot of schools in the province are being retrofitted to serve that purpose, so we don't have to do that," she said.

Harbourside Elementary is a P3 school with capacity for 725 students. It currently has about 325.

Critics respond

NDP education critic Claudia Chender would have liked more details of the plan overall.

"We want more information about what's being built, why it's being built, how it's being built and what the arrangements are financially," she said after the minister's announcement.

PC MLA Tim Halman was critical of the Springhill school decision, which he felt was politically motivated.

"If this government was serious about the auditor general's recommendations about taking politics out of the school process, I certainly haven't evidence of that today," he said.

A byelection is coming to Cumberland South, which includes Springhill, within the year. The Liberals picked their candidate to run in that race Sunday.

Scott Lockhart, a sales representative, will carry the Liberal banner whenever Premier Stephen McNeil announces a date for the vote.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

With files from Joan Weeks and Shaina Luck

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