Keep St. Joseph’s high school, says feedback

Jack Ammendolia, a consultant for the Catholic school board, outsides recommendations for school consolidation in the Cornwall family of schools for the CDSBEO in Cornwall, Ont. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – Feedback from the Catholic accommodation review committee (ARC) and the public is suggesting the Catholic board keep the existing St. Joseph’s Secondary School.

That’s even though it will cost almost $8 million over then next five years to maintain.

St. Joseph’s is in slightly worse condition that the rest of the CDSBEO schools and would need $15.6 million in work. It should be noted that half of that upkeep ($7.8 million) is to the General Vanier side of the school, which is owned by the Upper Canada District School Board.

The public and ARC input runs counter to the board’s preferred plan of getting rid of St. Joe’s and building a new grades 7-12 high school.

“I do know that initial reports showing dollars at a higher level to maintain this (St. Joe’s) school. But I know through some of the ARC meetings, at the end of the day when the report comes back, we’re optimistic that some savings would be found in other places. If the ARC recommends we maintain this school, and the board of trustees agrees to that, at that point we will have to make sure we find the funding to accommodate the plan,” said Todd Lalonde, board chairman and Cornwall trustee, in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch.

Jack Ammendolia with consulting firm Watson and Associates was hired to carry out the school review.

“Because of hallways, because of auditoriums, because of shops, it seemed that the willingness from the committee and the community was to retain those things for their secondary school students. It’s not impossible (but) it’s really unlikely you can replicate and mimic some things that the existing St. Joseph’s has,” Ammendolia told CNW.

He said the “overwhelming majority” of people in the (ARC) working meeting wanted to save the existing high school site on Cumberland Street.

The board is looking at eliminating 481 surplus pupil spaces that is costing the board around $653,353 a year in lost revenue, based on CDSBEO calculations.

Members of the Accommodation Review Committee heard Wednesday night the proposed recommendation would see Immaculate Conception close and students would go to Bishop Macdonell and St. Peter.

St. Columban’s and Sacred Heart would close and those students would be housed in a new JK-6 facility at the Sacred Heart site or an alternative site.

Here are the rest of the recommendations:

  • Convert St. Anne to a JK-6 facility, grades 7 and 8 would go to St. Joe’s converted 7-12 school
  • Boundary update so students for St. Anne and Sacred Heart, north of Highway 401, would go to new combined Sacred Heart-St. Columban’s school
  • Existing grade 7 and 8 students at Bishop Macdonell would go to St. Joe’s
  • St. Joe’s conversion would take in grades 7 and 8 from St. Anne, Bishop Macdonell, Sacred Heart and St. Columban’s either through alternative space or building an addition to the existing building
  • High school boundaries for Holy Trinity and St. Joe’s would be realigned to mirror elementary boundaries
  • Look at options for St. Matthew CSS to allow expansion for grades 7 and 8.

The closures and consolidations, if approved, would happen from June 2018 through June 2019.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School Principal Danny Conway and Catholic board chairman Todd Lalonde chat in Cornwall, Ont. Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 prior to a meeting on the future of Cornwall schools. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Around 35 people were at the meeting – around two-thirds of the audience were ARC members.

The process has been running so smoothly the ARC is deciding whether to even have another working meeting before a public delegations meeting on April 4. The school board will make its final decision May 2.

“From an insider’s view and someone who has done a lot of these ARCs, it’s been very smooth. I think a lot of that has to do with how the board has conducted itself. Has been very transparent and clear with the community,” Ammendolia said.

“I’m very pleased with the process,” chairman Lalonde added. “The way to succeed with this plan is to be open about that plan. The numbers (in the audience) aren’t substantial at this meeting and I’d like to think that it’s because people are agreeing with some of these proposals going forward.”