MONASTERY: A looming provincial deadline for a decision on the future of the Strait regional school board’s public-private-partnership (P3) facilities has led the board to fast-forward its school review schedule.

The board originally planned to conduct a review of the Dalbrae Academy family of schools during the 2018-19 academic year. However, with Mabou-based Dalbrae and Port Hood’s Bayview Education Centre among the board’s seven P3 schools and a 2020 expiry date looming for leases signed between private developer Ashford Investments and the provincial government, the board has agreed to review Dalbrae, Bayview and Whycocomagh Education Centre over the coming year.

At the same time, the board will conduct a review of the five-school Antigonish County feeder system centering on Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, as originally scheduled in the SRSB’s 2015 Long-Range Outlook. The Dr. J.H. Gillis feeder system includes Antigonish Education Centre, another of the board’s seven P3 schools.

SRSB superintendent of schools Ford Rice pointed out that Nova Scotia’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development had originally expected an answer from the board on the fate of its P3 schools by November 30, but was willing to move this deadline to April 30, 2017 to allow the board to carry out its review process for western Antigonish County and central Inverness County.

“It will be a considerable amount of work,” Rice predicted as he spoke to reporters following last week’s board meeting at East Antigonish Education Centre and Academy in Monastery.

“But the two reviews will be done completely separate, in terms of the requirement for the three public meetings [for each review].”

Rice also noted that any closure decisions resulting from the two school review processes would not take effect until September 2021, as the result of an extension of the P3 leases that went into effect following an expenditure of $1.5 million unveiled last month by Education Minister Karen Casey.

The board member representing all three Dalbrae feeder-system schools, Jim Austen, urged his SRSB colleagues to proceed with caution when reviewing the recommendation to be provided to the board by the School Options Committee (SOC) that will examine the three schools over the coming winter and early spring.

“These three schools are in the heart of Inverness County, and this past year I have noticed – and I think a lot of people would agree with me – that there is a new sense of optimism and development happening in central Inverness County,” Austen told the Monastery meeting.

“So I do think we will have to consider this very, very carefully.”

In the meantime, the board is now hoping to have an answer on its request for a new facility to replace another of its P3 schools, Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre and Academy (CBHECA), by next July. The SRSB’s most recent capital projects list included a replacement for the Terre Noire facility, which can house 720 students but is currently operating at only 45 per cent capacity.

“At this point in time, the P3 schools contract is between the private partner and the Province of Nova Scotia, so the board is not involved in those discussions,” Rice explained.
“The final decision rests with government and will be made in the best interest of the education of students and the fiscal realities of the province.”