New schools in Nova Scotia were approved with “no evidence” supporting the need and in some cases above higher-need areas, according to a new report from Auditor General Michael Pickup.
Pickup’s fall report says his office is “lost to understand why” two schools in Premier Stephen McNeil’s and Education Minister Karen Casey’s ridings were approved.
It says other school projects ranked higher in priority were skipped in favour of a new school in Bridgetown – ranked 26th – and a new school in Tatamagouche – ranked 28th – on the list.
The cost of the two schools combined is $45.5 million. The schools were approved in the 2014-15 capital plan.
“There is no evidence to support why these projects were approved ahead of other projects ranked higher by the evaluating committees, but not approved,” the report says.
According to Pickup, committees in the education department and treasury board prioritize new schools and renovation projects but cabinet has final approval.
Construction projects for schools in Wolfville and Truro were also questioned by Pickup.
In those cases as well, he said the projects went ahead while other higher priority projects weren’t approved.
Pickup also says there’s “no evidence of need” for the new $21 million high school in Eastern Passage.
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The school was announced under the former NDP government and continued under the new Liberal government. It has not yet been built, but a contract for the school has been signed.
Pickup recommends the department reconsider building the school.
“No one at the department could tell us what led to the desire for a new Eastern Passage High School,” he said. “But the evidence provided prior to that decision consistently showed it was not necessary.”
The report says the new school will drive down enrolment at nearby high schools. Leaving Cole Harbour and Auburn Drive high schools with a combined enrolment of less than 50 per cent.
The new school is forcing Halifax Regional School Board to review Auburn and Cole Harbour high schools which Pickup says will likely lead to “consolidation of high schools” and “closures of some local elementary schools.”
Cole Harbour recently completed $12 million in renovations and there are “minimal concerns” with the building conditions at Auburn, Pickup said.
The system will be forced to adjust to “new and unnecessary capacity.”
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