ANTIGONISH: With the Strait regional school board (SRSB) set to determine the fate of Antigonish Education Centre (AEC) later this month, residents of the town and surrounding communities have launched an on-line petition and are lobbying board members to retain the 17-year-old facility.
Forty people, including municipal and provincial politicians, attended a public meeting held Monday evening at StFX University’s Schwartz School of Business by the organizers of the Facebook group “Antigonish Students and Schools Matter.” The social media campaign took shape after the School Options Committee (SOC) reviewing the Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School feeder system for the SRSB voted in favour of the closure of AEC during the SOC’s last working committee meeting on March 6.
Already buoyed by 340 signatures on a Change.org on-line petition opposing AEC’s closure and the redistribution of the feeder system’s students among its remaining four schools, opponents of the SOC recommendation are also hoping a presentation to be made tonight (Wednesday) at the SRSB’s latest regular monthly meeting in Antigonish will make an impact. That meeting, slated to begin at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew Junior School (SAJS), will see the official delivery of the SOC recommendation, as well as a staff technical report regarding the feeder system review.
Matt Boyd, who will speak on behalf of AEC and its supporters during this meeting, noted that AEC’s annual operating cost of $530,000 represents 0.6 per cent of the SRSB’s total budget of $80 million, and predicted that any cost savings resulting from the school’s closure could be swallowed up by renovations at the other schools slated to absorb the AEC student body.
“Our newest school will be gone, and we’re going to be left with our four oldest schools,” Boyd remarked.
“They’ll need to renovate [Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School]… We need to do very large renovations for St. Andrew Junior School to go from 25 to 35 classrooms, and we have to change the bathrooms, we have to change the doors… They’re all going to have to be done in the summer months, and that’s going to drive up the cost as well.”
The meeting also heard from Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey, who recounted his own experiences as a parent lobbying the SRSB to keep Heatherton’s Rev. H.J. MacDonald School open, as well as SOC member Minu Sharma, who opened the meeting with an explanation of her decision to vote for AEC’s closure less than two weeks after voting to maintain the status-quo.
“We were assured by the school board that resources would be put into [SAJS] to renovate the bathrooms, put bathrooms within the classrooms if need be, and we’re sitting by a piece of land that will come to be part of that school, so playground equipment could be added there, and part of the junior school is even now in fundraising to have more playground equipment on the grounds,” Sharma recalled.
In addition to this week’s SRSB meeting in Antigonish, the board is slated to address the SOC findings at its working committee meeting on Wednesday, April 19 and hold a final vote on the issue at a special board meeting on Wednesday, April 26. Both meetings, which are open to the public, are slated to begin at 7 p.m. at Port Hawkesbury’s SAERC Auditorium.