News Local

School merger proposed

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

Two of Orillia's Catholic schools are being recommended for closure.

At a pupil accommodation review meeting last night at St. Bernard's School, parents learned a committee is recommending the closures and consolidation of Monsignor Lee and Guardian Angels schools.

None of the approximately 40 people in attendance voiced objection to the proposal, though written comments were accepted at the end of the meeting.

The draft recommendation:

* Close Guardian Angels School building

* Close Monsignor Lee School building

* Replace school on alternate site.

* Replacement school to accommodate approximately the same combined pupil places of existing Guardian Angels and Monsignor Lee schools (300-350 pupil places)

* Replacement school to take into consideration history, culture and identity of both school communities Students would remain in the existing schools until a new one is constructed.

Tim Cranney, the father of a child who attends Notre Dame School, was glad to see the status quo recommended for the relatively new school building. However, he is concerned about what the proposal to review school boundaries will mean for his son. His main concerns are about bus times and the possibility of his son being separated from friends, depending on what, if any, boundary adjustments are made.

Cranney added: "I'm not convinced that the Monsignor Lee/Guardian Angels (consolidation) is the way to go."

The issue of boundaries is also what brought Shannon McIsaac to the meeting. She has three children attending St. Bernard's and had concerns similar to Cranney's.

Boundary reviews have been proposed for all schools being looked at -- Foley Catholic School in Brechin, Notre Dame, St. Bernard's, Monsignor Lee and Guardian Angels.

The recommendation still has to be approved by the board and will be dependent on funding from the Ministry of Education.

Walter Schug reserved his opinion on the consolidation of two schools pending ministry funding. But one thing is certain, he said. "This school (St. Bernard's) has to change. A new facility has to be built," said Schug, whose son attends Monsignor Lee.

The board and school community have identified that need.

Some in the audience asked about acquiring the site of Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute, which has been recommended for closure by the public school board's facility standing committee. Glenn Clarke, controller of plant with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, said the board is not looking at that as an option.

The fact no one objected to the draft recommendation during the meeting "says a lot," Clarke said, "in that the working group has heard the concerns from the school community."

Someone in the audience asked how quickly the ministry would respond to the proposal. While a specific timeframe is not available, "it's possible the ministry could address this area in one fell swoop," said Darren Schmidt, area superintendent of schools.

Jim Canning, trustee for Orillia and Oro-Medonte, Ramara and Severn townships, would not comment on the recommendation, but said he was "impressed with the spirit of co-operation" shown by parents and committee members throughout the process. "I realize change is sometimes difficult for them."

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