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Letter to the Editor: What if Mr. Jan Radwanski was right about not building a joint school in Westheath

A letter to the editor from Michel Labonte

What if this idea of closing four of our existing schools to build a new joint school in the field in South Hill close to 15 Wing was truly a bad idea.

What if our community would be much better off to keep those four schools that we already have and renovate them according to our needs instead of destroying them. By changing the life of those neighbourhoods, it could be eliminating all the good things that those schools and their playgrounds bring to our children and community. (If large renovations are needed to be done, maybe students could be moved to a temporarily location.)  

I don't believe that the greatest idea for the well-being of our students and our city is to build a big joint school out there in an empty field, thinking this is what our children need and hoping that by having it, it will help attract people into a  new residential development, like the building of the Sunningdale school did for the community in the early 1980s.

Many want us to believe that this is the recipe for success, and that this new joint school will be the envy of everyone in the province. I truly question the validity of those statements.

I was at that Prairie South School Division (PSSD) board meeting in September 2019 when trustees voted to accept the suggestion of the location of this proposed joint school that was brought to them behind closed doors by an outside accounting firm KPMG just a few hours before the public board meeting took place. All trustees only had a few hours to go through the information they received before being asked to vote on it.

I am still sad to see that some people chose to pay an outside firm to tell us what we should do when we already pay politicians and bureaucrats on provincial and municipal levels, as well as board trustees, to do that job. It feel like no one wants to do the work themselves and be accountable. They prefer to just vote yes or no to an ‘outside idea’ we have paid for.  

Most trustees who spoke at that meeting were all pumped-up about this concept, that building a new school on South Hill would create the perfect scenario for recreating the residential development that happened after building Sunningdale school 40 years ago.  No one except Mr. Jan Radwanski talked about what kind of  negative impact this new joint school would have on our children and on our existing neighbourhood and community.  

Except for Mr. Radwanski and our past trustee Mr. Swanson, everybody else was very anxious to vote in favour of accepting this proposed location for the joint school and they were also very anxious to bring this choice of location to City Council  ASAP. (We could smell the Provincial Election coming soon…)

Mr Swanson brought to the attention of all trustees that this proposed location for the new joint school that they just found out about a few hours earlier should be brought to the public for feedback before moving ahead with it. He stated that, as trustees who get pay $ 1300.00 a month, it was the trustees’ duty to first let the community know about the choice presented to them so that the community would have the chance to express their points of view about this proposed location.  His motion was defeated.

I do believe that Mr Radwanski is right about not building this new school on South Hill for all the good reasons he stated.  I also understand that some school divisions, for instance, may not have been very good at investing in maintaining their property over time and some may be very pleased about this new deal of building a new school so they wouldn't have to care for the old one even though this new school is still not very ecologically designed.

My point is, doing things to keep the economy going is good, but we truly have to be very wise in regard to what we choose to do and when we choose to do it. Doing things for the wrong reason can cause some long-term very unpleasant negative side effects that a community and city have to live with.

Paying to bring all the infrastructure necessary to build this new school, hoping that it will attract new development, doesn't seem right to me at all at this point in time. I am also not a believer that this new big school with an expected thousand people in it is what our very young children and older students truly need, let alone our community as a whole.

When one truly looks at the design of this new school, there seems to be no place for children to play outside and they are stuck in a not well-ventilated building, surrounded by  a residential development full of small lots where streets will be filled with school buses, parked vehicles, big plastic containers and where our big block apartments may have  balconies that can’t even fit two chairs with no gardens, no garages or  workshops for families to use. One may wonder if this is really the kind of place someone would like to live and raise a family.  Unfortunately, it seems, maybe only those with no other alternative would have to end up there.  

I wonder who truly cares about our existing schools and neighbourhoods, and who truly cares about the real needs of our children? We all should listen carefully to what Mr. Radwanski shared, and my hope is that many will have the courage to change their point of view on this very important situation.          

I do believe that for the well-being of our community and our children’s future, we should appreciate, keep, renovate and expand what we already have and let go of this idea of a new joint school in Westheath.

Thanks for taking the time to hear me out.

Michel Labonte

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

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