Future of vacant Rideau High School mulled at meeting

The possibility of transforming the former Rideau High School into a community hub was discussed at a meeting Tuesday night attended by more than 40 people.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre wants to keep school building, land for public use

A meeting was held Tuesday night to discuss turning Rideau High School into a community hub. Sheila Perry, an organizer with Friends of Rideau High School, said the province has identified community hubs as a priority for school boards. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The possibility of transforming the former Rideau High School into a community hub was discussed at a meeting Tuesday night attended by more than 40 people.

The Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre led the meeting at the St-Laurent Complex on Coté Street, which coincided with the first day of class for former Rideau students at their new school.

Yacouba Traoré, executive director of the resource centre, said his organization would be an anchor tenant for the proposed facility, which would house a range of social, community and health services.

"If there is no school in that community, let's make sure that the community asset stays in and we replace the school with services that hopefully will also cater to the needs of children and youth," Traoré said. 

If successful, they hope to open the community hub by 2019, he said.

Yacoube Traoré, executive director of the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, is leading the charge to have social, health and community services housed at the former school. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

'Worst thing to happen would be an empty building'

The meeting included other community organizations, school board trustees, parents and other residents.

Some recommended using the school auditorium as a cultural venue, using kitchens and workshops for training programs, and more.

A handout given at the meeting listed the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, the Social Planning Council of Ottawa and a francophone community health organization, Équipe de santé familiale communautaire de l'Est d'Ottawa, among the organizations working on a business plan.

Sheila Perry — a member of the Friends of Rideau High School group, which fought to keep the school open — pointed out the province has identified community hubs as a priority for school boards.

"The worst thing to happen would be an empty building," she said.

The fate of Rideau High School's fields and facilities are still up to the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (Steve Fischer)

Keeping school land public

The people behind the communuity hub proposal say their main priority is keeping the school — its facilities and fields — for public use.

Shawn Menard, an Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustee for Rideau-Vanier/Capital, said the board still has to decide whether it will keep the school and its grounds or declare it surplus land, in which case it could be sold.

Some people at the meeting raised concerns about the possibility that the shuttered high school might have to turn back into a school at some point.

Chris Ellis, the OCDSB trustee for Rideau Rockcliffe/Alta Vista, said the facility cost between $200,000 and $300,000 per year to operate, and that he doesn't want the board to shoulder the cost of maintaining the building should the community hub fail.

"It's important for this group to come forward with a strong business plan, to give comfort to the school board, my fellow trustees and the district staff that if it goes forward it will be successful, and it won't come back, fall apart and the school board be stuck with that building and the cost of keeping that building maintained."

More than 40 people gathered at the St-Laurent Complex to discuss the community hub idea. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Both Ellis and Menard expressed support for keeping the facility in case it is eventually needed as a school again.

The Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre is working on presenting a business plan to the OCDSB by the end of October, Traoré said.

If the plan is approved, the centre would begin securing tenants and renovating the school.