Future uncertain for Bruce Mines school

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The community of Bruce Mines, Ontario is facing an uncertain future for Arthur Henderson Public School. An accommodation review of the school, undertaken by the Algoma District School Board (ADSB), has been unfolding, with two public consultation meetings having already been completed.

ADSB’s Superintendent of Education, Marcy Bell and Superintendent of Business, Joe Santa Maria participated in meetings held at Arthur Henderson School on Jan. 26th and Feb. 2nd, 2017. The final report, recommending the closure of the school, has been published to the ADSB website. The last piece in the accommodation review process happens tonight at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees.

As outlined in Algoma District School Board Policy 5.01: Pupil and Accommodation Review Policy, the Board must allow an opportunity for members of the public to provide feedback on the final report. According to Board Superintendant of Education, Marcy Bell, there are three people slated to participate in tonight’s Board of Trustees meeting at the school board offices on Albert St. E.

At least two of those people are concerned parents from Bruce Mines, Aspen Zeppa and Melissa Allard who have children attending Arthur Henderson Elementary School.

“I have two children ages 4 and 5 and I moved back to the community I grew up in to raise my family within the last two years.  Since I’ve been here, we’ve lost our arena and now the elementary school is at risk of closing.” shared Aspen Zeppa. “The school building is also used by various community groups.”

As the parent of two children enrolled at Arthur Henderson school, I fear for our children’s future and the future of our community. They will lose their sense of belonging here.” shared Melissa Allard.

Both Zeppa and Allard have expressed concern over the future of community events and activities that the children attending Arthur Henderson take part in, including  visits to Light Haven Retirement Residence, community clean-up efforts, visits to the museum and local library, annual Easter egg hunts and much more. They both share a concern for the added stress that larger schools can have on young children.

“Smaller schools reduce anonymity and isolation of students which reduces violence and bullying.” shared Allard. “My research has shown that smaller schools help students feel more accountable for their behavior and grades. Smaller schools increase employee, volunteer and parental involvement.”

Both Zeppa and Allard are concerned about the longer commute for young children, by school bus to C.A.E.S.

“In the event that the Bruce Mines school closes, I would probably have to start driving my kids to school. I don’t live as far out as some of the families do, but I anticipate that a much longer bus ride will be in store for my children. Currently my child gets picked up at 7:45 by bus for the drive to Bruce Mines. I anticipate that some children will be looking at getting on the bus before, or close to 7:00 am for the 8:45 start time. The highway (11/17) between Bruce Mines and Desbarats is only two lanes, and the commute will add more risk for our children.” shared Zeppa. “Being a rural community, some of our children have long bus rides as it stands already.”

“The ADSB won’t be able to get funding to build an addition onto the Central Algoma School, until they close Arthur Henderson.” she said. “The monies used for that build could be used for upgrades to the school in Bruce Mines. The property associated with the school is huge – there is lots of space there – lots of acreage, and there is a good community right here in Bruce Mines.”

Arthur Henderson Public School sits on 3.8 hectares of land.

“The children in grades 4-6 were moved in 2016 to Desbarats – the 7/8 grades were moved in 2013.The Desbarats elementary school closed and the children are all going to C.A.E.S. (Central Algoma Elementary School) now, which is attached to C.A.S.S.”

Zeppa and Allard feel that the school board has not been investing in upgrades of the school, which has negatively impacted the Facilities Condition Index (FCI). “The closure is happening in relation to ADSB trying to get funding to build an addition onto C.A.S.S. In my opinion, this has been the big picture since 2013, when the grades 7 & 8 were moved there, and again in Sept. 2016, when the grades 4 – 6 were moved to C.A.E.S.” said Zeppa.

“Our school has not been maintained for the past 15 years.” stated Allard. “Mr. Santa Maria told us at the second public meeting on Feb. 2nd, that funds needed for maintenance at Arthur Henderson were funneled to schools that needed it more. The argument that the school board is making regarding high maintenance costs and decreased enrollment doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Both Allard and Zeppa feel that this lack of maintenance and upgrading to the school building is what has pushed the FCI into the ‘critical’ category.

The Facility Condition Index or FCI is an industry standard index that measures the relative condition of the facility by considering the costs of deferred maintenance and repairs as well as the value of the facility. FCI allows condition benchmarking between facilities of unequal size and composition, both within and among institutions. FCI is calculated by dividing the Current Renewal needs by asset replacement cost.

According to the ADSB Modified Accommodation Review Final Report, ‘The Arthur Henderson Public School Facility Condition Index (FCI) is currently deemed extremely high or critical at 123% combined with a 37.5% utilization rate, meaning that there would be no access to Ministry Capital funding for the existing building. Moving the existing Arthur Henderson students to a larger school population, would mean that the JK-3 students would benefit from improved facilities, educational environment, access to resources and extracurricular opportunities. Consistent with the Initial Staff Report and based on the School Information Profile feedback and public input, it is the Senior Administration recommendation that Arthur Henderson Public School be closed and the JK-3 school population be relocated to Central Algoma Elementary. This would be contingent upon the Algoma District School Board applying for and receiving Ministry of Education Capital Funding for an addition to Central Algoma Elementary School.’

Zeppa and Allard would like to see a Ministry of Education review of the ADSB accommodation process as it relates to Arthur Henderson School. “When the grades 4-8 were moved to support the newly built Central Algoma Elementary School, last year, it affected how data is used with respect to cost per student.” Said Zeppa.

“I’m working with the Ontario Alliance Against School Closures to pursue support for halting the closure of our school. I would like to see at least the school board press the ‘pause button’.”

“The closure of Arthur Henderson will have great impacts to the community, as we are a one school community. These children support the library, museum, as well as many other establishments, not to mention they attend the retirement home in town to read books to retired citizens.  I am apprehensive about many things involved in this move. I do not believe a larger school can provide what smaller ones can. I do not think longer bus rides will be in the best interest of the children.” stated Zeppa.

Excerpt from minutes of public meeting held at Arthur Henderson School, earlier this year.

‘Community Member: We all know it is a done deal – you are asking what we need to do for our kids to make it successful – it is going to happen whether we like it or not – that is what I’m hearing.

· Response: the recommendation of Senior Administration is to close Arthur Henderson and move students to Central Algoma/Thessalon; however, the final decision is made by the Board of Trustees based on the ARC process and input/feedback from community consultation – as shared in presentation, the Board of Trustees can approve recommendation, modify the recommendation or approve a different outcome.

· Parent: When will it happen?

· Response: If the Board approves the recommendation, as outlined in the initial staff report, this would be 2018 – if approved, there would have to be a request to the Ministry for capital funding, the project would be tendered and then construction of the addition to CAES – earliest it would likely be is January 2018 but could be later depending on all of the process.’

As part of the modified accommodation review process, the final report for Arthur Henderson Public School has been posted and includes the following recommendation:

Consistent with the Initial Staff Report and based on the School Information Profile feedback and public input, it is the Senior Administration recommendation that Arthur Henderson Public School be closed and the JK-3 school population be relocated to Central Algoma Elementary. This would be contingent upon the Algoma District School Board applying for and receiving Ministry of Education Capital Funding for an addition to Central Algoma Elementary School.’ (www.adsb.on.ca)

Zeppa said “Recent (federal) census data shows that our community is in fact, growing. It (population growth)  is up by 2.8%. We owe it to future children and families, to consider that, going to school in the community you are raised in, creates strong bonds with community, and impacts the strength and resilience of the whole community. It’s much more than just the building. People and young families who may consider moving to Bruce Mines, may not be so keen on the move if there is no school here.”

Saultonline reached out to Bruce Mines Mayor Lory Patteri on two occasions at the Bruce Mines municipal office. At time of release of article, she had not returned calls for request for comment, regarding the school closure in Bruce Mines, and the potential impact to the Bruce Mines community moving forward.

Ontario Alliance against school closures is here:www.facebook.com