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School is board's, not ministry's, top priority

MIRANDA MINASSIAN, The Packet & Times

A new high school in Orillia remains a top priority for the Simcoe County District School Board, but its development doesn't seem likely.

The board's new capital plan, which listed the new school as its No. 1 priority, continues to call on the Ministry of Education to release the funds necessary to amalgamate Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute (ODCVI) and Park Street Collegiate Institute into one high school - a move that was suggested by an accommodation review committee (ARC) in 2009.

"At this time, the ministry does not have new funding for capital projects," ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler wrote in an email. "Since 2003, the Ontario government has built 400 new schools and another 170 are planned or underway. Last spring and summer, the ministry announced over $650 million in funding for nearly 80 projects across the province."

Last year, the board went ahead with three elementary school projects that were ranked as the first, third and fifth priorities.

"We still see (the high school) as a high priority. We see it as an important part of where we need to go," said John Dance, superintendent of facility services. "In Orillia, we have done our job in consolidating our elementary schools and this is one (project) that continues to be out there from that ARC three years ago."

Wheeler did not say when funding would become available.

The proposed $32-million project would see ODCVI and Park Street students merge into a new facility on the Park Street location.

Last year, the ministry was criticized by local trustees for choosing to fund lower priorities on the board's list, when the new high school in Orillia was ranked No. 2.

"The ministry worked with the boards to ensure the boards' proposed solutions represented the best value for taxpayers' money," Wheeler wrote. "Projects that were outside of the timeframe set by the ministry, or projects that required further information on scope and details, were not approved."

He didn't say why, specifically, Orillia was not chosen.

"The ministry sometimes says the better solutions to come up with are renovations, and so that is what the ministry is communicating to us," Dance said. "They haven't said no, definitely, to a new one. They are saying, 'Make the case to us that it has to be a new one and not a renovation.'"

The likelihood that renovations would lead to the discovery and disturbance of asbestos in ODCVI and, potentially, Park Street makes updating the two facilities undesirable, Dance said.

Also, the age of ODCVI and Park Street - built in 1928 and 1960, respectively - the conditions of the buildings and accessibility issues would mean renovating would result in little gain for the cost, he added.

In addition to seeking partnerships for the new school, the board is recommending all three of Orillia's secondary schools undergo attendance reviews this fall.

"That would set us up so that if we do get the funding for a new high school, we could balance enrolment numbers," Dance said.

Maintaining its place at No. 6 on the list of capital priorities is the consolidation of Ardtrea/Cumberland Beach Public School's two locations.

mminassian@orilliapacket.com



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