News Local

Merger plan floated

By Nathan Taylor, Orillia Packet & Times

Plans for Orillia's Catholic elementary schools could change if a recommendation from board staff is accepted later this year.

A recommendation from a pupil accommodation committee (PAC) included the consolidation of Guardian Angels and Monsignor Lee schools and the construction of a replacement facility.

The province recently announced $12.4 million in capital funding to address the accommodation needs of the board's elementary schools in Orillia, but that amount will not cover all the projects recommended by the PAC.

Also included in the recommendation was a replacement school for St. Bernard's.

The $12.4 million, as well as a primary class size grant, is expected to fund the St. Bernard's project and the "partial replacement of Monsignor Lee and replacement of Guardian Angels on the existing Monsignor Lee site," staff stated in a report to trustees.

"The partial replacement at Monsignor Lee would leave the existing gymnasium and office... in place and demolish the old wing of the school," the report stated.

No final decisions will be made until at least November, following opportunities for feedback from the public. Decisions are also subject to ministry approval.

But the local trustee is not ready to go against the PAC's proposal.

"I would like to follow those recommendations, if at all possible," said Jim Canning, who represents Orillia and the townships of Oro- Medonte, Ramara and Severn.

"(The province) should be able to provide that. There's no use giving this committee the authority to make these recommendations if you're not going to support them."

Glenn Clarke, the board's controller of plant, said staff is exploring both on-and off-site options for Monsignor Lee.

An ad-hoc committee will search for an architect, and the board will work with that architect to determine options, which include demolishing the existing Monsignor Lee school and building a new, two-storey structure on that site.

Another possibility is finding a five-acre site in the general vicinity of the existing Guardian Angels and Monsignor Lee sites.

Canning has concerns with the current location of Monsignor Lee. The school fronts on Fittons Road, right at the intersection with Peter Street.

It's a busy intersection with traffic issues "that didn't exist in 1965 when the school was put there," Canning said.

"It's a nuisance concern, but it's a safety concern as well," he said, noting buses and people picking up students from the school make it more crowded. "We should look for a better site."

"One would hope that we're not positioning ourselves to put good money into a bad site," trustee Rick Maloney, who represents Huntsville, Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Georgian Bay, said at Wednesday's meeting.

Canning fears the traffic situation will only get worse with additional students added to the school.

Staff and the PAC do agree that St. Bernard's needs a new building, and work is already underway, Clarke said.

McKnight Charron Laurin Inc. Architects of Barrie has been hired, and the board is looking at a "repeat design" of the plan for the new St. Paul's Catholic Elementary School in Alliston.

By using a repeat design, there would be cost and time savings and the school would be comparable to a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard, Clarke said.

The board has been working with the Ministry of Education for a couple of years now regarding local pupil accommodation needs.

"We're very pleased the ministry recognized the needs in the community," Clarke said.

Members of the public will be able to give the board their thoughts on the recommendations during a meeting Oct. 5 at the Education Centre in Barrie (46 Alliance Blvd.).

The board is expected to make its final decision in November.

For more information on meetings, visit the board's website:

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