The Ministry of Education has finally put out a call for new-school priorities from boards across the province, nearly a year and a half since last doing so.
The Simcoe County District School Board has put together their new ranked list of capital priorities – voted through by trustees at a special business and facilities standing committee meeting on Sept. 27.
During the meeting, Adjala-Tosorontio/Clearview/CFB Borden/Essa trustee Brandy Rafeek thanked staff for their work, and for the first place ranking for an Angus elementary school.
“We are very overcrowded in Angus. I really hope the ministry sees all the work that has gone into this and the great need,” said Rafeek.
The SCDSB’s ranked list being sent to the province for consideration for 2023/24 capital priority funding are:
- New Angus elementary school (growth accommodation)
- New Barrie SE elementary #1 (Dean Ave., growth accommodation)
- New Alcona elementary school (growth accommodation)
- Nantyr Shores Secondary School (growth accommodation addition)
- Warnica Public School (growth accommodation replacement school)
- Emma King Public School (growth accommodation addition)
- New Tottenham elementary school (growth accommodation)
- Ardagh Bluffs Public School (growth accommodation addition)
- Baxter Central Public School (growth accommodation addition)
- New Stayner elementary school (growth accommodation)
- Nottawa Elementary School (growth accommodation addition)
- New Wasaga Beach secondary school (growth accommodation)
- New Barrie SE elementary #2 (Hewitt's, growth accommodation)
New to this call from the province are requirements for boards to provide a summary of key project milestones and details on-site identification, design plans, project timelines and cost estimates. Priority will be given to projects that are considered shovel-ready.
Therefore, this year’s list from the SCDSB was partially determined by whether the board already has acquired land for the projects, and has a preliminary design completed.
Also new in the call is a move toward design standardization of schools, where priority will also be given to projects that replicate already-built designs from other areas. Boards are encouraged to explore innovative ways to build schools, which could include vertical schools (four or more storeys) and podium schools (schools built in mixed-use developments).
There are only two projects on the list that the board has not yet finalized a land purchase for: the New Barrie SE elementary school (Hewitt’s) and the Wasaga Beach secondary school, although Corry Van Nispen, superintendent of business and facility services, assured trustees the board was close on both projects.
The board is in the process of acquiring land at the corner of Sunnidale Rd. S. and Sun Valley Ave. for the Wasaga Beach secondary school project.
“While it is not yet owned, we do have a clear path identifying a reasonable chance at completing the acquisition in a timely manner,” said Van Nispen. “There has been past interest indicated by the town for a partnership opportunity.”
During discussion, Collingwood/Wasaga Beach trustee Mike Foley asked if the board was experiencing any barriers in acquiring the Wasaga Beach secondary school site.
“This was a designation site for the public school board for a secondary school,” said Van Nispen.
New Tecumseth trustee Sarah Beitz asked about two projects that had been on the board’s previous submission but were no longer on the new proposed list.
The capital projects put forward by the SCDSB to the Ministry of Education for 2022-23 funding by the board in February 2022 were:
- New Angus elementary school
- New Alliston elementary school
- New Bradford secondary school
- Nantyr Shores Secondary School addition
- Ardagh Bluffs Public School addition
The board expressed shock and dismay in May 2022 when they were told none of the projects on that list were approved by the province in that round.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Beitz pointed to two projects – a new Alliston elementary school and a new Bradford secondary school.
“There are two notable schools that are not on here,” said Beitz.
Van Nispen said priorities were adjusted due to the changes in criteria put out by the ministry.
“We’re not saying there isn’t a need. For these 13, we have the business cases that check the boxes for what the ministry is currently looking for,” he said. “The work doesn’t stop. We will continue to develop those projects to get them to that shovel-ready position.”
Orillia/Severn/Ramara trustee Jodi Lloyd offered some words of cautionary optimism for other trustees.
“As exciting as all this is, it doesn’t mean we’re getting these projects,” she said. “The last time we did this, we were asked for five projects...and we got none.”
Lloyd noted that every time the province puts out a call, they set different parameters for that call.
“Every board in the province of Ontario is doing the exact same thing we are. They don’t always fund our most urgent projects,” she said.
The last time the SCDSB was approved for new capital priority funding through the province was in late 2021 and Jan. 2022, when the ministry granted funding approval for a Banting Memorial High School replacement, Killarney Beach Public School addition and a new Orillia elementary school. The ministry also announced funding approval for a child-care renovation at Tecumseth Beeton Elementary School at that time.
School boards must send in their new wish lists to the province by Oct. 20 for consideration.
The province is expected to make announcements on which projects will be awarded funding in the winter of 2024.