Cape Breton school facing closure gets possible lifeline from province

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Cape Breton school facing closure gets possible lifeline from province

Nova Scotia's education minister has proposed funding a pilot project that could keep a Cape Breton school open and have some of its unused space turned over to outside institutions and businesses.

George D. Lewis School in historic Louisbourg is supposed to close for good in June, one of 17 schools the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board voted last year to shutter as enrolments decline.

Brett Hanham, vice-chair of the newly formed George D. Lewis Gateways to Opportunity Society, said the new idea is to rent out space in the building and students would in turn learn from the tenants.

He said the Cape Breton Regional Municipality would like to move municipal staff in the town to the building, Louisbourg Seafoods would set up an office, and there is support from Cape Breton University and the Fortress of Louisbourg.

"It is a community development piece, it's an economic development piece, it's a social development piece," said Hanham. "It's a much bigger piece where we're working with bringing in artisans into the community, bringing in trades people, Louisbourg Seafoods and others."

The tenants would share their business ideas and creative ideas with the students as a learning experience.

Education minister's proposal

The group met with staff from Nova Scotia's Department of Education last week asking for help. Education Minister Karen Casey wrote to the school board chair, Darren Googoo, with a proposal.

"The proposal uses excess space in the school and builds a 'classrooms in the community' approach with support from universities, the federal government, CBRM and local businesses," Casey wrote.

"I am proposing a pilot project with the society, the partners they have assembled and the school board," Casey continued. "To support the pilot, the department will work with your finance staff to provide funding to offset an appropriate portion of the school operating costs for the next year while the pilot gets underway."

Monday night meeting

Googoo said the idea will be discussed at a board meeting tonight.

"This has to be one of those things that we have to look at carefully before we make any decision on what we're going to do as a board," Googoo said.

He expects a decision on the minister's offer to be made some time in May.

A community development group had previously proposed a hub school model where unused space is rented out to government and business groups to help pay the cost of operation.

The idea was rejected by the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School board following an independent review — it came down to money.

"Mainly, it was the financial reasons and it was because we didn't have money, we had commitments, we had letters of intent but no money," Hanham said.