A replacement for 70-year-old Banting Memorial High School could be on the horizon as Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce recently said he’d be willing to tour the facility.
The Minister’s commitment came after Simcoe–Grey MPP, Jim Wilson pressed him on it during Question Period in Queens Park last Monday.
"Structurally, the building is beyond repair. It would require major mechanical and electrical upgrades. It is full of asbestos,” said Wilson. "So, I ask the Minister, will he ensure Banting Memorial High School is assessed in the coming months, so its replacement will be properly considered in the spring round of funding announcements for new schools in Ontario?”
Lecce responded by saying millions in funding to at least incrementally improve the site facility has been granted over the last decade, recognizing that there's growth in the community and a need for renewal.
Approximately $5.4 million has gone into Banting over the last decade for capital investments, which are large projects that required special funding allocations to keep the school operating.
“We can certainly work offline to better understand the needs of your community,” Lecce said.
“There are billions of dollars of requests that come before the Ministry of Education for capital and I'm very proud that, amid the pandemic, we have now unveiled two rounds of investment, roughly a billion dollars of monies flowing to improve schools right across this Province,”
Over the next decade, the provincial government has set aside $12 billion to renew and repair schools, in an effort to remediate the backlog of capital investments needed.
Simcoe County District School Board Trustee for New Tecumseth, Sarah Beitz, said she’s happy with Lecce’s response and looks forward to taking him up on his commitment to tour Banting Memorial High School.
“I’m very excited to meet with the Minister and talk about our community, our school, and our needs because I think it's important for him to hear it from the local people,” Beitz said.
“It was very hopeful to hear him state in the question period to Mr. Wilson that it is on his radar and he does intend on definitely meeting with the community."
Several years ago, under the Kathleen Wynne Government, the Ministry of Education toured Banting and because a lot of the issues with the school are behind the walls and under the floors, they thought it was in solid condition, Beitz told the Times.
“A challenge will be when the Minister comes, to somehow safely show him those inaccessible areas, so we're working on a plan to kind of bring those to light,” she said.
“It’s going to take a bit of creativity to prepare for the Minister to visit, so that we can really help him see what needs to be seen."
Beitz said it’s important to note that while Banting does have a large issue with asbestos, no staff or students in the facility are ever exposed, since asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed.
“But what it does do is it triples, quadruples the cost of any maintenance, so any time we do have to go in and fix something, you have to tent it off, negative air. There are extensive safety protocols anytime you have to do maintenance around asbestos,” she explained.
“It just shows the age and how expensive it is to keep Banting running and operating."
Although, if disaster strikes and the school had a critical piece of infrastructure fail, significant portions of the building would have to be shut down and students would likely need to be spread across neighbouring schools until they’re safe to return.
"Every day, with such demand, the more you press an aging system, the more failures you're going to see,” Beitz warns. "Every day, it's a possibility, that something could go wrong."
She said the demands of modern education simply cannot be fulfilled in an aging school such as Banting.
"A newer school will allow for more offerings to the students. We're just limited with what we can do. Modern education does require a modern infrastructure,” she noted.
“We give Banting a lot of love and our teachers go above and beyond to make it work with what they have, but it's time that we gave them better tools to do that and a better environment to learn in, so the kids can thrive and grow."
Beitz said she was brought to tears when she toured the newly built, Georgian Bay District Secondary School after it opened its doors in 2019,
“I went to the opening there and it was just gorgeous. It felt conducive to learning, it made you want to learn and discover, just being in it,” she told the Times.
"Everything was equipped and hooked up, it was just a really great environment and our kids need that in New Tecumseth. We need that so badly."
Going forward, Beitz said she’s “very optimistic” about meeting with Lecce and discussing Banting as well as other local demands for education.
“As soon as we get Banting replaced, it's not going to be long before we need a second high school in our Town as well. The growth is there and any time you press aging systems, it makes me nervous, it makes everyone nervous, it's just not something you want to have to do, it puts you on edge,” said Beitz.
Sam Odrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times