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New Moncton school location a ‘big surprise’ and cause for concern: parent

Click to play video 'New school planned at site of  Moncton’s Bernice MacNaughton High School' New school planned at site of Moncton’s Bernice MacNaughton High School
WATCH ABOVE: A new school in Moncton’s west end is planned for the property of Bernice MacNaughton High School. As Callum Smith reports, the news comes as a surprise for some parents – Sep 6, 2020

A new school in Moncton’s west end is indeed planned for the property of Bernice MacNaughton High School.

That’s according to Dominic Cardy, the education minister prior to the dissolution of the legislature as a result of the snap election.

He said he didn’t want to discuss details during an election campaign, but wanted to set the record straight because the information had already been leaked, despite no formal announcement from the province.

He said the government was expecting to make a formal announcement about the project during budget estimates in the spring, but that was halted due to COVID-19.

The location for a new K-8 school in Moncton’s west end is expected to be built on the same property as Bernice MacNaughton High School
The location for a new K-8 school in Moncton’s west end is expected to be built on the same property as Bernice MacNaughton High School. Google Maps

Cardy says New Brunswick’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) and education department staffers recommend the location of new schools, and he signs off on that recommendation unless there are due process concerns.

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“Having been satisfied before the election that the process had been followed correctly, I signed off on the DTI and [Education and Early Childhood Development] recommendation that was several weeks beforehand and that was it,” he tells Global News. “We ended up, as we were getting closer to an election, saying look, we don’t want to make a big deal about this because it looks like ‘electioneering.'”

“The DEC’s decision to make this announcement has put us in a difficult decision,” he says. “I don’t want to be making announcements around infrastructure in the middle of an election… But at the same time, given that an announcement has come out, I think we have to make sure the folks in the community know where things stand.”

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Budget allocations were set aside for the project in the 2020-2021 capital budget, but the final price tag isn’t clear right now.

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Construction is expected to begin in 2022, says Jeremy Trevors, a DTI spokesperson. He says it’s too early to determine when the school would be ready to open.

But it’s not the first time this school project is a topic of discussion during an election campaign.

Read more: Questions raised about Bessborough School project following budget cuts

Jeremy Nelson has a daughter starting Grade 5 at Bessborough next week.

While that’s top of mind, he’s concerned about the location of the new school project.

“The location that was announced was a big surprise, I think not just to myself, but to most parents who have been engaged on this issue for two or three years now,” he says.

Nelson says he’s discouraged by the fact that the school will be on the busy St. George Boulevard, down the street from the current Hillcrest property.

Students from both Hillcrest and Bessborough schools will attend the new K-8 school upon completion. Construction is expected to start in 2022.
Students from both Hillcrest and Bessborough schools will attend the new K-8 school upon completion. Construction is expected to start in 2022. Callum Smith / Global News

“It’s a high rate of speed area…it’s a highway on-ramp,” he says. “It concerns me.”

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Nelson says he’s pleased a new school is in the works, but would like to see a different location.

Meanwhile, Harry Doyle, the chair of the district education council, says members did not provide a recommendation on location.

“I’m as surprised as some of the other people that this one was the chosen site,” he says. “My guess would be that it was because we own the property.”

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Other locations considered to varying degrees, he says, included the current properties of Bessborough and Hillcrest schools.

“Very honestly, we’re just excited about having the new school; that our project was approved,” he says. “That’s what this is about.”

Doyle says purchasing a couple neighbouring properties would’ve likely been required if the Bessborough site was chosen.

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When asked about the project potentially being on the Bernice MacNaughton property at a back-to-school press conference one day earlier (Thursday), Deputy Minister George Daley didn’t reveal the location, but said discussions are ongoing between the province, the school district, and the city of Moncton.

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“Once we have a minister back in the seat, that would probably be another follow up question that you should pose to the new minister,” he said.

When asked if the potential for another party to form government could change plans again, Cardy said, “I would certainly hope not.”

“Given that the budget has been allocated, the site has been chosen and everything is moving along, I would be appalled if another party chose to interfere in a process that was totally non-political, as a citizen of this province.”