SACKVILLE, N.B. – Aging infrastructure. Undersized classrooms and gymnasiums. Lack of accessibility. Millions of dollars required for maintenance. These are just some of the issues faced by students and staff every day in Sackville schools. And so the question has become, where do we go from here?
A recent Ernst & Young report suggests the community has several options it could consider as it decides how best to approach the issues – a decision that would involve either upgrading two of the three schools or building entirely new ones.
Those options were laid out on the table during a public presentation hosted by the District Education Council (DEC) on Monday evening at Tantramar Regional High School. The presentation gave the community an opportunity to hear more about the Ernst & Young report, which was based on an infrastructure review completed on Sackville’s schools last spring.
“You need to consider what’s best for the community and what your interests are,” Ernst & Young consultant Kevin Doucette told the small crowd of parents, teachers, administrators and DEC members who came out for the presentation.
Doucette said the report basically outlines three scenarios for Sackville, based on enrolment projections and education specifications provided by the New Brunswick Department of Education.
The first would see the closure of both Marshview Middle School (Grades 5-8) and TRHS (Grades 9-12), with construction of a new Grade 6 to 12 school. With a price tag of about $30 million (construction costs only), a new Grade 6-12 school would be sized for about 720 students and include 31 homerooms.
This option would also require an upgrade of Salem Elementary, currently a K-4 school, in order to accommodate the Grade 5 students. But Doucette pointed out that the cost for an addition to Salem, along with the deferred maintenance costs required to bring the school up to standard, would come in at about 45 per cent of the cost of a new K-5 school. He said it would make more sense in this case to build new. A new elementary school is estimated at about $20 million and would be sized for 444 students with 24 classrooms.
The second scenario would involve the closure of Marshview and relocating those students to TRHS. Doucette said a “midlife upgrade” would be completed on the high school, at a cost of about $7 million, to accommodate the Grade 6 to 8 students, including a multi-purpose gym addition. This scenario again would require changes to the elementary school, as the Grade 5 students would need to be accommodated there.
The final option would be to close all three existing schools – Salem, MMS and TRHS – and build a brand new K-12 school. Designed for about 1,100 students with 54 home rooms, a new K-12 school would come with a pricetag of about $42 million. It was noted in the report, however, that this option is “outside the recommended sizing” for a K-12 school in New Brunswick.
Doucette said a school this size would be nearly double the size of the largest K-12 school in the province, which sits at about 625 students.
“You’re looking at a very large K-12 school,” he said, noting that these combined schools are typically built when you have smaller schools in small communities.
All of these options also included scenarios in which to include students from Dorchester Consolidated School. As DCS is also an aging school with deficiency issues, and a number of students from Dorchester already travel to Sackville for French Immersion, the school was considered in the scope of the review. Port Elgin Regional School was considered too far outside the catchment area of the Sackville schools and was not included in the report.
Gregg Ingersoll, superintendant for Anglophone East School District, said this report was conducted for the DEC as an “information-gathering exercise” and will be used by the council for long-term planning decisions.
He said one of the DEC’s main responsibilities is to make decisions about where the district’s funding should be directed in relation to major capital projects (such as new schools) as well as capital repairs for the 37 schools within the district. So now the council will review the report and decide whether to include Sackville’s set of schools at the top of the priority list.
“They’ll have to look at what is the best thing to think about for this community in the future,” said Ingersoll.
Marshview, at nearly 70 years old and in poor condition, is the best example of an older school that’s going to need to be replaced, said Ingersoll, and that will certainly be taken into account. But he pointed out that, just because an infrastructure review was conducted for this area, does not guarantee Sackville will take precedence.
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” said Ingersoll.
If the DEC does make the recommendation for a new school, Ingersoll said that decision would take place in May during capital budgeting. And since that decision would include the closure of at least one school in the area, this would trigger a sustainability study, a process that involves notification to the community as well as a series of public consultations. So residents would still have plenty of opportunity to hear more and to provide feedback, he said.
Harry Doyle, chair of the DEC, said the report on Sackville’s schools provides the council with a lot of great information to consider. But he urged the community to speak out and share their concerns and thoughts with the DEC, as this report is only the “first step” in the decision-making process.
“We’re interested in hearing from you people,” said Doyle.
Fellow DEC member Norval McConnell agreed.
“Our job is to make recommendations on improving our schools . . . so we need as much information as we can from you to make that decision,” he said.