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New high school in Eastern Passage faces a lengthy history of criticism

Controversy surrounds grand opening of new Eastern Passage school
WATCH: The education minister celebrated the opening of a new high school in Eastern Passage on Thursday, but the grand opening was marred by controversy.

A new school in Eastern Passage has faced a lengthy history of criticism and declining enrolment at nearby schools have begun to raise questions on whether the building was ever needed in the first place.

Schools are often constructed by governments to meet the growing needs of the communities they serve, with the simple equation that when capacity at one school is overflowing, new schools tend to be built.

Issues around what would eventually become Island View High School were first raised in November 2016.

Nova Scotia’s auditor general, Michael Pickup, criticized Stephen McNeil’s Liberals for moving forward with a new school project for Eastern Passage.

WATCH: Nova Scotia announces new schools to be built in Halifax, Cape Breton

Nova Scotia announces new schools to be built in Halifax, Cape Breton
Nova Scotia announces new schools to be built in Halifax, Cape Breton

Pickup said a new high school in Eastern Passage would create “new and unnecessary capacity” and that there’s “no evidence of need” for the multi-million-dollar project.

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Despite Pickup’s objections, the Liberal government went ahead with the build and Island View High School officially opened its doors this September.

When the province originally announced its plan to proceed with construction plans of a new high school in Eastern Passage, the former Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) called for a School Options Committee (SOC) to be formed.

The goal of that SOC, which consists of parents who volunteer their time, was to review 17 schools within the Cole Harbour High and Auburn Drive family of schools.

A report from HRSB said that the opening of a new high school in Eastern Passage would decrease enrolment at Cole Harbour District High School by 50 per cent due to students being filtered to Eastern Passage instead.

For eight months, SOC members compiled together what they felt were best recommendations for students in their area.

The No. 1 recommendation from their final report was to amalgamate Cole Harbour and Auburn Drive and use a dual campus model.

Before the report was reviewed, Education Minister Zach Churchill, cancelled all school reviews in the province.

READ MORE: Parent and volunteer felt ‘slapped’ by province’s decision to stop school reviews

Despite criticism from the AG and the cancelling of school review policies, Churchill says Island View “is a really special place that I know will serve the students of Cow Bay, Shearwater and Eastern Passage for generations to come.”

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According to figures provided by the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, enrolment has already dropped by 251 students at Cole Harbour District High School since the opening of Island View High School.

Currently, there are 543 students enrolled at Cole Harbour High School.

Auburn Drive has just over 800 and Island View has only 405.

Despite declining enrolment at Cole Harbour High School, Churchill says investments will continue to be made into Auburn Drive and Cole Harbour High.

“Both schools will be remaining open and we’re looking at enhancing the skilled trades focus of Cole Harbour High,” Churchill said.

Churchill added that letters have been mailed out to parents of children at Auburn Drive and Cole Harbour informing them of updates to the schools.

He also said that recommendations from the SOC report are still being considered, although amalgamation isn’t one of them.