Sudbury schools may avoid cuts by renting space to businesses

In an attempt to find more than $3.6 million in savings, Sudbury's English public school board is looking to rent some of its buildings to businesses.

Tenants would have to be appropriate to a learning setting, superintendent says

Rainbow District School Board is considering closing or merging 12 schools in the Sudbury, Ont., area due to a drop in provincial funding and enrolment. (Darin Epperly/Associated Press)

In an attempt to find more than $3.6 million in savings, the English public school board in Sudbury, Ont., is looking to rent some of its buildings to businesses.

Twelve schools at the Rainbow District School Board are at risk of being closed or consolidated due to a decline in provincial funding and enrolment.

But some could be saved if companies lease space in them, according to the board's superintendent of business, Dennis Bazinet. 

"Anything that is reasonable in nature that could change the outcomes, we need to certainly give consideration," Bazinet said. 

The province's Ministry of Education has asked school boards to review whether they can find partners in the private sector, as long as they are appropriate for a learning environment. 

Industrial facilities, competing education entities and companies that could compromise student achievement strategies will not be allowed under the ministry's criteria, Bazinet said. 

Must 'benefit' students

Parent FeliciaFahey welcomes the idea, as long as it stops school closures and compliments student goals. 

"Having a business in there that perhaps went hand-in-hand with some sort of a magnet program, like something in health care where the students could do co-ops and perhaps work in there and get hands on training, I can see something like that," Fahey said.

"It would be something that benefits the students. Anything else, I think, is completely unacceptable."  

So far, the board has not received any expressions of interest for this venture, Bazinet said. 

But if it does, the board could apply for provincial funding to build separate spaces and entrances for its tenants.

'Great opportunity' for tech firms

Technology incubators will likely be drawn to the opportunity, according to Don Duval, CEO of the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc.

"If you envision the infrastructure and architecture of a schoolhouse, they're typically larger rooms," Duval said.

"So if you want to encourage collaboration, team work, knowledge sharing among a single company — that might be two or three people, and combined them with two or three other companies in the same space that are not competitive — what a great opportunity."

Duval notes that some companies have already moved into classrooms in Sudbury, such as the robotics research institute Penguin Automated Systems Inc.

CEO Greg Baiden bought an old Catholic school, Our Lady of Fatima, in Naughton, Ont., about 10 years ago. 

"It allows all the engineers to work together and use the chalkboards and make those design decisions," Baiden said. 

"I think a whole school room environment allows people to feel a lot more at ease and comfortable. Everybody's got the space they need to work."

The board's preference is to see administrative industries move into their buildings, such as consulting or accounting firms and health care offices, according to Bazinet.

But at this point, it is considering all options.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

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Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.