Moncton wants province to rethink school site selection criteria

·3 min read

A Moncton city councillor wants the municipality to urge the provincial government to review criteria used to pick school sites after controversy about a new west end school and Moncton High School.

Coun. Charles Leger gave notice of a motion at Monday's council meeting. The motion to be voted on at a later meeting also calls for a more direct role for the city when the province is considering new school sites.

It was prompted by the selection of a wooded site near Bernice MacNaughton High School for a new kindergarten to Grade 8 school.

The new school will replace Bessborough and Hillcrest schools, both more centrally located in the west end of the city than the new school location. Some parents objected to the new location, saying they wanted the school built on the Bessborough grounds.

The province says that the existing school sites are too small and it picked the MacNaughton location because it is already provincially-owned and has more space for things like a sports field, playground and outdoor classroom.

"We have 22 urban schools that are all vintage schools that are eventually going to have to be replaced," Leger said in an interview.

"The challenge is that under the current requirement, it'll become very prohibitive to build and replace schools within neighbourhoods."

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The province's site selection guidelines call for a property with about 24 acres when building a school like the one in the west end, though the established neighbourhood has almost no vacant land of that size.

"You don't have large parcels of land available or affordable," Education Minister Dominic Cardy has previously said.

The city worries that spells the end of downtown or urban schools.

"It just can't be about where there's free or cheap land," Mayor Dawn Arnold said in an interview.

She said the city has previously advocated for changes and believes council will support Leger's motion.

Only one of the four sites considered for the new west end school isn't already on provincially-owned land.

In October, education department staff indicated it would have cost several million to purchase the privately-owned site off Millennium Boulevard.

The province has acknowledged the MacNaughton site will mean more children will need to be bused to school instead of being within walking distance. It will also require reworking the high school site to potentially add another road entrance.

The New Brunswick Association of Planners has called on the province to revise its guidelines to reduce urban sprawl.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Moncton councillors have said the city needs a greater role in site selection because of how it affects the way the city grows and the infrastructure required to service those areas.

"Nothing drives urban growth more than the location of an elementary school," Arnold said.

Moncton's north end has exploded, but much of that section of the city consists of low density single-family homes, townhouses or duplexes.

Lower density subdivisions are generally more costly for a city to service over the long-term because it means more roads, sidewalks, water and sewer lines and other services than denser developments.

Cardy has already indicated he's open to a greater municipal role in where schools are located.

"I think that that should be changed in the future and look forward to talking about how we can reform the governance of the education system," Cardy said in September.

Arnold said she spoke to the minister over the weekend about the issue, but she said it's not clear how soon changes could be made.

The education department didn't respond Tuesday to a request for comment on Leger's motion.