Monday, December 15, 2008

A full plate of issues for School District 52

City Council won’t let them open one school where they want to locate it, and now School District 52 will have to examine the recommendation to close another, this one a decision that could see the closing of one the oldest institutions of learning in the city.

Details of a consultants report into the state of Prince Rupert schools were released this past week and one of the sure to be emotional recommendations was that Prince Rupert Secondary School and the Port Edward School be closed.

Whether PRSS would be replaced by a new building or turned into a middle school, with senior students then streamed to Charles Hays is still to be debated, but with the number of repairs required to upgrade PRSS the recommendation was to close the facility rather than to continue on with expensive repairs on an annual basis.

The Port Edward recommendation will prove to be emotional and controversial as well, the District Council in Port Edward has made keeping the school open it’s main priority, so any talk of closing the school and sending Port Edward students to Prince Rupert by bus will be met with a fair amount of resistance in that community.

Matrix Planning Associates delivered their evaluations with a two hour presentation that outlined a number of scenarios for school board officials to consider. The Daily news reviewed the details in Friday’s paper.

Close PRSS, Port Ed say school experts
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, December 12, 2008
Page five

The best options for School District 52 in the near future involve the closure of at least two existing schools, says a consulting company studying the viability of Prince Rupert's schools.

Matrix Planning Associates was hired by the school district to deliver a comprehensive report on the state of the buildings currently housing the students of Prince Rupert, and compile the data necessary for the school board to make decisions for the future of education in the community. William Wood from Matrix presented the company's preliminary report at a special school board meeting held last night at the civic centre that included a list of six scenarios recommended to SD52 to achieve the standard school capacities as set forth by the Ministry of Education.

The two-hour presentation began with Wood breaking some bad news to the board and the public. As many as five of Prince Rupert's schools may be better off replaced because it may prove to be cheaper to demolish and build new structures than to continue to pay for the upgrades they will need.

All of Prince Rupert's schools will require considerable future assessment, with the exception of Lax Kxeen.

Matrix has already concluded that Prince Rupert Secondary School is better off replaced than repaired.

While Wood said schools need work, none are in poor enough shape that they require immediate replacement - and Pineridge and Charles Hays are surely worth keeping.

Wood went on to state that even with increased tourism and the expansion of the Port of Prince Rupert, the impact of the city's growth on enrollment numbers is likely to be minimal.

With even the most optimistic forecasts predicting only modest growth, Wood's model shows population numbers remaining near current numbers for the next 30 years, and calls for total enrollment to level off across the district by 2013.

In the near future, Westview enrollment is predicted to decline more than Roosevelt or Pineridge, however Matrix believes that the implementation of full-day Kindergarten across the province will positively utilize space in all of SD52 schools.

The preliminary report states that if nothing were to change, by 2018 total capacity utilization in all of SD52 schools would fall to 72 per cent, down an alarming amount from 81 per cent utilization currently. But given that Prince Rupert is quite a "compact community," Wood said the district should have "no problem" meeting the Ministry of Education's 85 per cent utilization minimum to be considered for capital project funding.

After explaining all this and more, Wood went on to address the six scenarios that would bring the district to an average utilization rate above 85 per cent, all of which reduce the number of Prince Rupert schools by at least one building. Of the six scenarios, Matrix has recommended the two that scored highest after applying an evaluation process that individually weighs 15 criteria. Both scenarios A-3 and C-1 call for a single secondary school, with maximum utilization and full funds available for educational programs and the upgrading of each elementary schools. Scenario A-3 would see both PRSS and Port Edward closed, while Charles Hays would be expanded.

Scenario C-1 would see PRSS become a junior middle school, with Port Ed, Westview and Conrad all closed, and the French Immersion program moved to Roosevelt.

Wood had no reservations in stating that the closure of Port Edward Elementary was logical, regardless of what else the district did because housing 50 students in a school designed to educate 200 is not feasible. He said there is no indication that enrollment will increase in Port Ed anytime soon, meaning it will never make it near the top of the list for ministry-funded capital upgrades.

"The solution for Port Edward is what's best for the kids," said Wood.

"They'll continue to get the attention from teachers, but with split grades and less funding. All that is being weighed against is a 15-minute bus ride, and it seems that if you take the kids into consideration, there's a good argument for closing the school."

With a great deal of experience in dealing with B.C. school districts, Matrix has a successful track record for creating plans that get ministry approval. Wood said it is best to have a solid plan with community support if a school district is to stand a good chance of getting capital funding. He also said that a key will be in gaging whether the public would rather maintain the traditional elementary/secondary school model, or if people would support the creation of a middle school.

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