Some disappointed, others optimistic after province passes on Saint John school project

·3 min read

Depending on who you ask, the government's decision not to fund a new school project in Saint John this year is either "disappointing" or "great news."

This week, the province chose not to fund the proposed kindergarten to Grade 8 school project for Saint John's south central peninsula for the third year in a row, but changed the rules so the five top-ranking projects that don't get funding in one year will be carried over into the top positions the following year.

This means the only thing standing in the way of the projects getting funded next year is how much money is in the budget.

For Brice Belyea, a member of the task force championing the project, this is "wonderful news."

"We need a year to get it assembled, to get the land assembled, to get some of the early design work done. And so the announcement ... was really good news for Saint John," he said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

The project would replace two aging schools located in priority neighbourhoods, Prince Charles School and St. John the Baptist/King Edward School.

HMFH Architects
HMFH Architects

Anglophone South District Education Council chair Rob Fowler said not having a share of the $72 million provincial infrastructure budget for the new school and community centre is disappointing and will only cause delays.

"This project is our number one priority. I've been confident that we were going to get approved and we haven't yet," he said. "The reality is we're still third. The province has been typically building one school per year. So that means even next year, we're probably not going to get funded until year three."

He said if something more important comes up in this district or another in the province, the project will keep getting pushed. And considering how much work needs to be done, he said even if the project is approved next year, the school won't be built and ready until five years in the future.

First the project would need $2 million dollars to start for site acquisition and land assembly.

"Typically, if you get the funding announcement today, you get a few million dollars. It's a year before you start breaking ground and then it's two years construction. So we're in now at least four years away from moving kids into a new school and more likely five," he said.

The proposed design for the school includes a gym and library that could be used outside school hours, and 5,000 square feet of community programming space, including program rooms, a community kitchen and shared offices.

A community hub for priority neighbourhoods

City councillor David Hickey, who represents the ward where the school would be built, said the community space would make a big difference to the people of south central Saint John.

"We've got a child poverty rate of 50 per cent," he said. "One in two kids is without food security, housing security or social security, and that's significant."

He said having a community hub in this area would provide infrastructure for much needed services such as a clinic.

Belyea said he understands the province is "challenged financially," but he trusts the government's word that the money for the school will come next year.

"We can't get everything we want all at one time," he said. "On the other hand, it's been a moving target until this year."

He said the task force's next step is to meet with the minister responsible for economic development, Arlene Dunn, and other members of government, to "help guide us through the planning process and the property acquisition process."

"We'll be working on that in the next couple of weeks," he said.