Letter to HRSB regarding school closures, promises made, Joe Howe, & how we can do better together.


EDIT – added some resource links for parents and residents here.

Gin Yee, Chair
Halifax Regional School Board
33 Spectacle Lake Drive
Dartmouth, NS B3B 1X7

March 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Yee,

I am writing to you with my thoughts and concerns regarding the upcoming school identification process.

First, let me acknowledge the difficult situation the Board and staff of HRSB are facing when the Nova Scotia Education Act legislates the potential replacement, amalgamation or closure of our schools. It is never an easy process, and I am confident the Board will make every effort to hear and respond to the community and its concerns.

Three issues concern me today as this process begins. First is the promises made to the Joe Howe and St Patrick’s Alexandria communities during the last school closure process in 2009, the second is the concern about possible problems locating an adequate, available site for a North End elementary, and third is the need to act together and work with the province to create an integrated capital planning process for HRM and the HRSB.

1 – Promises Made – As you may be aware, I am an educator and education activist and was very involved in the 2007-09 fight to preserve community schools on the peninsula. Closing St Patrick’s Alexandria was a difficult decision made after a long and draining process, but I said then, and still feel now, that it was the right decision given the numbers, the conditions of the schools, and especially the promise made to replace or renovate Joseph Howe.

This decision was a difficult one in part due to the the well-founded mistrust in the neighbourhood, mistrust that has its roots in the racism of Nova Scotia’s past and the destruction of Africville. Many in the community felt that St Patrick’s Alexandria was part of the promise made to the community during the Africville relocation, along with the other community investments, like the Dixon Centre and the library.

On Tuesday, March 24, 2009 the HRSB voted to close St Patricks’s Alexandria School. The Board gave the school two years to close, in part to allow renovations or replacement of the receiving school, Joseph Howe. (Board Votes to Close St Patricks, Chronicle Herald, March 25, 2009)

The Board, and the previous one-man Board, had rejected the proposals to consolidate these schools with St Joseph A. Murray MacKay.

This was the decision after years of discussion and debate. It was a good decision, and I shared the hopes of the community that a new or renewed Joe Howe would rise, and that in rising would meet the promises of 2009, of 2007, of 1970, and of 1964. This is what was promised, what should have happened, and to my mind is what should still happen.

2 – Site availability – I do not feel that a new North End public school can fit on the Bloomfield site while also allowing the Bloomfield master plan to be executed. The Bloomfield master plan is a critical project for HRM and any modification to the use of that site that would keep the plan from being executed would not be acceptable.

If a school is built on this site, and Joe Howe and St Joe’s are combined, the children living in downtown on Brunswick and south of Cornwallis will have to walk between 1.5 and 2.5 kilometers across very busy roads to get to that site.

As you know, Peninsula Halifax has in fact grown by almost 7000 residents in the last five years. There is a new sense of optimism about the future of these neighbourhoods because of the ship building and off shore exploration and all the other things that are driving growth in HRM. HRM has show that the goals of the Regional Plan are working, that more people are living in the Regional Centre, and that HRM by Design is bringing new development to downtown.

I do not feel it is fair or wise to consider consolidating those schools into a site that will leave large swaths of downtown outside of acceptable walking distances for elementary school children. (Imagine Our Schools 10 Years Facilities Master Plan Community Consultation No. 4 Feb 19, 2008).

3 – Capital planning – So much of the future of HRM and the success of our plans for redeveloping the Regional Centre rely on schools, parks, public facilities like recreation centres.

As a province of modest means, it is incumbent on all elected officials to work together to identify where we can share costs and get the best return on investment.

Right now HRM faces a growing problem – as schools close, we are losing more and more full-court gymnasiums. Further, as we turn to our HRM Community Facilities Master Plan and work to roll out more and more Category One community recreation centres, it is clear that the only affordable way to reach our goals as a Municipality is to partner with HRSB and the Province to improve existing facilities, or help ensure new builds meet both the HRSB’s needs and HRM’s needs.

Right now, I cannot even advocate for investments to improve gyms in existing schools because we do not know what schools will stay open or close in the next five or ten years. Indeed, there are other sites that could come available between the province and HRM that would make ideal school sites, but have not yet been considered because we are not all sitting together planning successful, healthy and vibrant communities.

Mr. Yee, I cannot express to you how important I feel it is that we work together to convince the province that HRM and HRSB need an integrated, capital-planning process with all three parties at the table.

In closing, I recognize this process must go ahead in some format given the constraints of the Education Act.

I urge you to consider the promises made to the Joseph Howe community during the last school closure process.

Be wary of what sites are really available to build this consolidated school on and the impact of site selection.

Finally, I urge you to consider a meeting between HRM and HRSB elected representatives and staff to discuss working together to convince our Provincial partners to develop an integrated capital planning process.

Thank you so much for your time and service to our community.

Waye Mason

District 7 Peninsula South Downtown

CC: HRSB Board members
Mayor Mike Savage
Councillor Jennifer Watts
Honourable Maureen MacDonald, MLA Halifax Needham
Honourable Leonard Preyra, MLA Halifax Citadel Sable Island
Chris Bryant, Government Relations & External Affairs HRM