South end school plans on hold once again

·3 min read

Saint John won't get a new school in 2021. But it's high on the list for 2022 and Gary Lawson, the chair of the Central Peninsula Community School/Hub project task force, is confident the school and community hub will be built soon.

"While we would have preferred to have it announced this year, we're very excited that it'll now be next on the [provincial priority] list."

On Wednesday, the school capital projects list was released by the provincial government as part of the capital budget for 2021. The Central Peninsula Community School was third on that list. Thanks to a new "priority cue," the school is now in second spot on the list for 2022, since the first project, a K-5 school near Killarney Lake in Fredericton, is now funded in 2021.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said although he can't speak for past ministers, the reason Moncton and Fredericton are getting new schools lately is because of population growth.

The estimated $32-million “state-of-the-art” Central Peninsula Community School would replace two aging school buildings that Rob Fowler, chair of the Anglophone's District Education Council, has previously described as being “beyond their useful life.”

It's been at the top of the priority projects list since 2018.

In order for school infrastructure projects to get funding and be built, priority lists are sent to the Department of Education from the district education councils. Then the government decides its capital project budget and reviews the districts’ lists compiled into one provincial list, according to a statement from spokesperson Tara Chislett.

A Quadruple Bottom Line MultiCriteria Analysis helps to guide funding decisions by assessing projects in light of economic, environmental, social and cultural objectives.

Then, a final proposal is presented to the education minister, who asks procedural questions, and then signs off, if the process was followed, according to Chislett.

The Quadruple Bottom Line MultiCriteria Analysis was recently criticized by New Brunswick auditor general Kim Adair-MacPherson for not being "objective or evidence-based" in how its implemented. She said items listed as lower priorities sometimes got funding over higher listed priorities and QBL isn’t well understood by school districts, doesn’t have a centralized database, and makes math mistakes.

And, David Hickey, who represents Saint John's Ward 3 on Saint John Common Council, said it seems like the provincial government is unwilling to provide a school that could meet the needs of his ward and address its systemic issues.

He said the child poverty rate in Ward 3 is 50 per cent, which means one in two kids don't have secure access to housing and food.

"The designs of that school, the intention of that school is exactly built to meet the needs and the demands of those kids, and that means creating a community hub where more services are available than just educational," said Hickey. "It means creating resource for the parents of that school. It means creating a space where those kids feel they belong."

Hickey said he appreciates that the school might be built in 2022, but after three years, the reassurances feel repetitive.

"It would be nice to get a straight answer over whether we're going to get [the school] or not."

Cardy said the new priority cue will ensure the next top five priority schools, minus the approved project this year, will stay the top five priorities for the next year.

"The project is second on the list now and the way the last number of years have gone, I'm certainly pretty optimistic about next year and if not next year, it'll be the year after," said the education minister.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal