Why a high school in Eastern Passage makes sense.

One of today’s lead news stories is that the provincial government might be willing to entertain funding the construction of an Eastern Passage high school.  Because of this, the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB)  has decided to wait on whether to request construction or not.

It has been awhile since this has story has been news.  Eastern Passage did not get a recommendation in the late and unlamented “Imagine Our Schools” pseudo consultation in 2007 and 2008.

This theatrical simulation of public consultation was put on by the HRSB to get parents off their backs, and ultimately floundered when neither HRSB staff, nor the general public, nor one man school Board Howard Windsor were willing to accept the majority of the expensive, Toronto consultant created recommendations.

Sure, the Citadel Schools fight meant I spent three years fighting to not build new schools, and renovate what we have, but this is a totally different situation.  There are a number of reasons why an Eastern Passage school would be good for education.

The first is the volume of busing. Eastern Passage has been looking for a new high school for years.  The area is one of the fastest growing in HRM.

During the Imagine Our Schools I heard from HRSB that 450 students were bused to Cole Harbour from the Passage each day.  The parents in the Passage say that the number is now around 600.

No matter how you look at it, for the next 5-10 years the projections show 450-550 students at the area junior high, Eastern Passage Educational Centre, and that means for the next 8-12 years, there will be 450-550 students bused to Cole Harbour, and that is without additional growth in population and further development in Eastern Passage.  The parents group says this costs $350,000 a year.

This brings us to the second point, which is overcrowding and capacity.  Normally, I wouldn’t say busing alone is a reason to build a new school.  All over the Province, kids are on buses on the way to school every day, and all those residents of the Passage knew there was no high school there when they moved there.

The problem is that Cole Harbour is a seriously over crowded school.    Both Cole Harbour and the adjacent Auburn Drive are operating at 115% or more of capacity.  Cole Harbour is designed for 900 students and the HRBS website says there are 1048, Auburn was designed for 960 students and has 1109.

So let’s recap, we are busing 600 students to a high school that is overcrowded.   Both the schools are overcrowded and have a some history of discipline and race relation issues.  This brings us to the third point – we should address the needs of students when we recognize them.

We have the Black Report, we have the recent riot on the fields of Auburn, we have a history of problems at Cole Harbour.  We have the weird gerrymandering of the feeder schools (see the graphic below).

Cole Harbour, Auburn and Prince Andrew school districts.
Cole Harbour, Auburn and Prince Andrew school districts.

Overcrowding these schools is not going to help anything.  Really, these schools should have an enrollment target of 85%, so about 800 students each.  This is a small but important part of making things right in this community.

A cost effective solution could be to turn the very new Eastern Passage Education Centre into a 7-12 school.  At most, a new high school should cost around the $15 million  spent on the recently build Sir John A MacDonald. Adding a wing and another gym to the existing EPEC site might keep the cost lower, and have the added bonus of creating a highly efficient school in terms of operations, custodial, and administration.

Once the new school is open, we could change the feeder schools to make sense, so both Auburn and Cole Harbour had populations in the target range of 800.

Sure in 10-12 years the population of these school is supposed to drop dramatically.  If this happens, at that time, we can change the boundaries again, put some of the students into Prince Andrew in Dartmouth, and close Cole Harbour and put 850 students in Auburn.

IF THAT HAPPENS.  God knows I don’t believe any of the projections we have been getting from HRSB.

So, to review, expanded EPEC, one principal, no buses, three schools that are no longer dangerously over crowded?  Someone needs to explain the downside to me.  I just don’t see one.