News Local

Partnership plan for new school met with mixed views

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

Financial partnerships shouldn't take priority in the location of Orillia's proposed new high school, says one school board trustee.

"I don't think you could say, 'Well, we're going to move a high school because it serves a partnership,'" Jodi Lloyd, Simcoe County District School Board trustee for Ramara, Severn and Tay townships, said Friday. "The school is there first and foremost to serve the needs of the students and that should be the first priority."

John Dance, superintendent of facility services with the board, said the Ministry of Education is encouraging partnerships.

"The ministry is encouraging us to pursue facility partnerships in all our secondary school projects if we can," he said.

Orillia is awaiting funding from the ministry for a proposed $32-million project that would see Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute and Park Street Collegiate Institute merged into a new facility on the Park Street site.

In 2009, the school board adopted a resolution to look for partnerships once funding for a new high school was approved.

At Wednesday's board meeting, a decision was made to seek partners now.

"We're not waiting," said Orillia trustee Debra Edwards. "We're hoping that partnership proposals would expedite a business case to the ministry to get school funding for a new high school sooner rather than never."

The board is looking for long-term partnerships with financial backing for both capital and operational costs.

Coun. Tony Madden said the school should stay at the corner of Park Street and Collegiate Drive.

"I'm all ears for partnerships, but it's got to be in the core," he said. "Park Street is the only location that makes sense to me."

Having Twin Lakes Secondary School in the south and Park Street in the north is "a good balance," Madden said.

Moving the proposed high school to west Orillia would have a "huge environmental impact," he said.

"With upwards of 700 students that could have been walking to school now taking buses, the cost of west Orillia would... be an environmental disaster if nothing else," Madden said.

Moving the school to west Orillia would go against the accommodation review committee (ARC) recommendation, Lloyd said. The ARC, which recommended amalgamating the two schools on the Park Street site, took into account walking distance and who the school services.

"They were very specific on where the high school should be, based on the students in attendance at the school and to maximize walking zones," Lloyd said. "Just moving a high school is not an easy task."

Edwards believes moving it to west Orillia should be considered.

"Some people seem to be hung up on having everything on this side of Highway 11 as opposed to West Ridge," she said. "(That) is where the growth is for the future of the City of Orillia."

Edwards is interested in looking into a partnership with Lakehead University.

"There is definitely potential out there with Lakehead University. They are interested in recreational facilities as well."

In January, Lakehead expressed interested in exploring partnerships.

"It just makes more sense economically to help supply the need for athletic facilities in the area with different partners," Kathy Hunt, spokesperson for Lakehead, told The Packet & Times at the time.

If moving the high school becomes an option, the community should be consulted, Lloyd said.

"Before we could ever consider moving the high school, we would need to go back to the community for public input," she said. "We would have to go back again and see where the students are."

The school board already has partnerships in three high schools.

Nottawasaga Pines Secondary School in Angus shares space with the Essa Public Library and the Nottawasaga OPP detachment.

Midland Secondary School houses the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, while Stellula Music in Schools is inside Penetanguishene Secondary School.

The school board is also discussing potential partnerships for the proposed Barrie Central Collegiate. This partnership/ rebuild is No. 5 on the board's capital priorities list.

Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School, in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, houses the Bracebridge Sportsplex and the Rene M. Caisse Memorial Theatre.

"It would be a real challenge, if at all possible, to replicate that unless you go into multiple-storey arrangements," Madden said, referring to the size of Park Street's lot. "That gets really costly and you'll lose your cost benefit pretty quickly."

Madden has heard ideas for the creation of a 400-metre domed track.

Coun. Michael Fogarty is in favour of partnerships.

"I've been preaching this for a very long time. There is only one taxpayer. It very much makes sense," he said. "Going forward in the modern economy, it's the only way we're going to see things get done... effectively."

Fogarty is interested in looking into a partnership with the school board for recreation facilities. He is chair of Orillia's all-council recreation facilities committee.

"We're moving forward fairly quickly on a pool and a gym. That doesn't negate the need for future gym space or future arena space or future meeting space."

For example, if the school board is considering a single gym, it could become a double gym in a municipal partnership, Fogarty said.

"It's much easier just to add on a double gym if they were only thinking of building a single gym," he said. "We can host larger competitions and recognize some sports tourism dollars."

Partnering for the creation of a seniors' centre is also an option, he said, noting there is "lots of opportunity."

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