COMMENTARY: What’s the agenda behind a Cornwall super school?

The $41 million price tag for a Cornwall super school seems more pie-in-the-sky than something attainable. The board’s plan is contingent on the provincial government approving this application, along with the other five requests from the UCDSB, and for that matter, every request from every other school board in the Province of Ontario. They are all looking for replacement money from a government that is broke and in debt past its eyeballs.

Looking at the numbers one has to wonder, what is the real agenda? The board closed General Vanier nearly six years ago to reduce the number of empty spaces, but kept the school for other purposes. Students were moved into CCVS, which has higher operating costs and a significant backlog of repairs – $32 million. St. Lawrence Secondary is a newer school, relatively speaking, than the other two buildings and sits at 66 per cent occupancy.

The UCDSB brass have proposed a super school that is not only not needed, but is fiscally irresponsible to the taxpayer. With no large vacant land central to the two schools available, how much of the proposed $41 million project will go to land acquisition alone? Shouldn’t that money be invested in educating students?

One of the key determining factors of the long-term health of a school building is a measurement called the Facility Cost Index (FCI). The smaller the percentage, the better shape the school is in. St. Lawrence has an FCI of 24.8 per cent while CCVS has an FCI of 76.5 per cent. The UCDSB does not have figures published for the former General Vanier building because it is no longer an actual school. Thanks to the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario’s ARC process, the numbers for the General Vanier building are available. According to CDSBEO documents, the combined GV/St. Joe’s school building has an FCI of 27.8 per cent.

Another determining factor in the health of schools is the projected five-year renewal cost. Everything from major repairs like roofs, walls and windows, to minor repairs like door knobs are all listed. For St. Lawrence, the five-year renewal cost is $14.6 million while CCVS has a renewal cost of $32.3 million. Again, you have to rely on the CDSBEO documentation for numbers for General Vanier. That school has a renewal cost of $15.8 million, but that is split between two school boards. In other words, about $8 million each.

What doesn’t make sense here is based on the UCDSB’s own enrollment numbers, Cornwall does not need a new “super school”.

General Vanier has a capacity of 800 students. CCVS has just under 800 students. CCVS is an old and costly building that does need replacement. Why hasn’t the board moved the students from CCVS to a reopened General Vanier building and gotten rid of the CCVS building? That move alone would get rid of 1,200 empty seats in the board, more than 10 per cent of the required 10,000 seat reduction that was the whole goal of “Building for the Future”.

It would be far less costly to ask the province to fund two repair projects, one for St. Lawrence and one for General Vanier, then to build a new super school to replace them all. There is also the opportunity for working with the CDSBEO on a joint renovation of a shared building, which falls in line with the orders from the Ministry of Education of having boards work together. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter fired off a letter this month to school boards telling them to work more cooperatively with co-terminus boards.

What’s even more puzzling, when I threw the idea to UCDSB board chairman Jeff McMillan of just getting around a table and having a co-board meeting and talking, I was seemingly patted on the head and told it wasn’t that simple and was “much more complex” than that.

A solution between the public and Catholic board would be fairer for the taxpayer, fairer and less disruptive to students, and uses facilities that are already there. All achieving the same goal of all boards, advancing student education because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

This $41 million dollar school project is a waste of tax dollars.