LANTZ: The volunteer committee tasked with bringing forward recommendation on the fate of two area schools may have to do so without having all their ducks in a row.

Maple Ridge Elementary in Lantz and Shubenacadie District Elementary Schools both face the possibility of one closing and the other remaining open. Maple Ridge, a school the community fought to be built in the first place, is a P3 school whose lease is set to expire in 2019. It is not currently on a list of P3 schools being purchased by the province. Winding River Consolidated in Stewiacke would be a receiving school for students from one of the schools.

Kerri-Ann Robson, the chairperson of the seven-person School Options Committee (SOC) tasked with making the recommendation to the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (CCRSB), said a lack of information could play a key factor in the final recommendation.

“We need more information and if we don’t get that info then the recommendation we make will have to reflect that,” she said inside Maple Ridge on Jan. 26. “There’s been a lot of question on the projected enrollment numbers and where those come from.

“We’ve started to receive some information on that, but there are still some gaps. Specifically those are around the affect of the interchange, the potential for development in Lantz, Milford and Shubenacadie, and how those were taken into account when they were developing those numbers.”

Kerri-Ann Robson speaks at the start of the SOC public meeting at Maple Ridge. (Healey photo)

The SOC has to make a recommendation by March 13 to the CCRSB, who will decide in May on what they will do.

More than 200 people attended the public meeting, with the presentation being held in the gymnasium before the crowd was broke off into three groups for three breakout sessions of 20 minutes each. Some sessions had lively discussions taking place. The sessions focused on pros/cons of closing Shubie; pros/cons of closing Maple Ridge; and changing the catchment areas.

In the session on the pros and cons of closing Shubenacadie School, people were concerned about the cultural divide it may bring. Students from Sipekne’katik attend there and they have been integrated quite well with the other students.

“The administration there have done an amazing job integrating both native and non-native kids,” said one parent. “They see each other as kids.”

There was concern that moving the students 40 minutes away in some respects may make those from Sipekne’katik choose to keep their students home, and thus not integrate them outside their own community.

“It’s a school as a whole, not just a building,” said another parent.

By the time the first session had been completed the taped on pieces of paper on the chalkboard was filled with a balance between pros and cons.

Robson, who has three children that go to Maple Ridge, is hopeful CCRSB will provide the SOC with the info they have requested.

“We’re certainly pushing to get it as quickly as possible,” she said. “The one thing that has been impressive among the volunteer committee is they’re all willing to put in the time and effort.

“If we can get it (the information), we can work with it I think.”

Kirby Myers said he had thoughts of moving into Lantz, but now he’s thinking twice.

“I did have plans to move my family here, but not doing that now if this school (Maple Ridge) is closed,” said Myers.

Robson, a Milford resident, said the SOC has been advised by CCRSB that none of the review process would be undertaken if Maple Ridge was not a P3 school, whose lease is coming up.

She said the SOC’s recommendation is non-binding so it’s just that a recommendation, which is something for the CCRSB to consider.

“It’s well within their ability to disregard that recommendation,” said Robson. “They’ve told us they would give weight to it, but they’ve made no promises.”

Robson knows that weight that is on the committee’s shoulders with a decision that will leave one side unhappy.

“We realize we’ll not make everyone happy,” she said. “Our goal is really to have let the community feel heard; that they were considered, and while they may not love our decision but can understand the rationale behind it.”

Shubenacadie Councillor Pam MacInnis spoke during the breakout session on changing the catchment areas about a letter Municipality of East Hants CAO Connie Nolan sent to the CCRSB outlining their support for keeping both schools open. That is based on the 2012 Socio-Economic study which shows growth in the Regional Serviceable Boundary. There’s no breakdown for Lantz or Shubenacadie.

“It is our opinion that any school closure decisions based on past enrollment number trends would be short sighted given future growth potential in the Municipality of East Hants,” MacInnis said reading from the letter Nolan submitted..

Speaking about the catchment area, one man noted that the East Hants corridor continues to grow and is an economic engine for the HRM. Another parent said a catchment-area analysis needs to be done before the SOC makes their recommendation.

“If we start ripping out schools here, no one is going to want to move here,” said the man.

The SOC has one final meeting on Feb. 23 at Shubenacadie District Elementary School. Robson said they will have a draft version of their recommendation to present. It is hoped that CCRSB representatives may be in attendance for a question and answer period with parents.

Robson said following that meeting on Feb. 23 the SOC then will have two weeks if they wish to tweak their recommendation before the CCRSB’s March 13 deadline.

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Patrick Healey
Pat has grown up in East Hants, having called Milford, and now Enfield home. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2001, and has spent time at newspapers in NL and Alberton and Summerside, PEI before becoming a reporter/photographer at The Weekly Press/The Laker in October 2008. He has a rescue kitty named Asha that is much loved—and spoiled. Pat is also our "social engagement guru." Check him out on twitter!