‘Schools can make or break communities’: N.B. cities call for more input in school location decisions

Click to play video: 'N.B. cities say it’s vital to keep schools in neighborhoods' N.B. cities say it’s vital to keep schools in neighborhoods
WATCH: Two of New Brunswick’s biggest cities say there needs to be more municipal or community consultation when the province selects where to build new schools. The education minister says the process is now more transparent. But as Callum Smith reports, cities say it’s vital to keep schools in neighbourhoods as much as possible – Nov 4, 2020

The chosen location for a new K-8 school in Moncton’s west end has drawn criticism.

Some parents say putting the facility beside Bernice MacNaughton High School is taking the school out of the neighbourhood. Both Bessborough and Hillcrests schools are minutes down the road, but concern has been raised about safety being near a highway and away from homes.

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

City councillors had the chance to chime in at a council meeting earlier this week, and are also voicing concern about how the selection process works.

“The (provincial) government has gone ahead and done what they wanted to do without, I think any, consultation with the city to make some kind of decision on that front,” Blair Lawrence, councillor for ward 2, said following a presentation from a parent concerned about the process.

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“I think, in the end, that that is decidedly, decidedly unfair and an unreasonable way in which to work. Schools can make or break communities.”

Blair Lawrence, a city councillor representing the west end, says “schools can make or break communities”. Callum Smith / Global News

Mayor Dawn Arnold said the wellbeing of students is crucial, and emphasized the need for schools to be within close proximity to the students that attend them.

“Our children are not OK… They need to be in communities, they need to be able to walk to school,” she said.

Arnold mentioned concerns raised by mayors from Fredericton and Saint John also.

Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien says in order for the province to be successful, its cities need to be successful — and part of that depends on where schools are located.

“We have one downtown school left,” O’Brien told Global News in an interview Wednesday. “I know its aging and it’ll be on the review sometime soon for a replacement. It’s crucial that we keep a school in our downtown core somewhere and that means they may have to look at a different footprint.”

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

That’s because provincial guidelines call for a site to be about 24 acres — something Coun. Lawrence also disagrees with.

“When will the province finally break its centrist notion that one size fits all?” he asked Monday.

O’Brien says dialogue continues with the local school district and the province, but input from municipalities needs to be heard when decisions are made.

“Let’s put it this way… Our city planners are experts; we know where we’re growing, we know where a school should be located to make it effective for the growth of the community, therefore a tax base for the province, and a smart decision for the province,” he said.

FILE – Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien says cities need to be part of new school location decision-making. Megan Yamoah / Global News

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says the new school project selection process has become more transparent with criteria posted online.

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He and a staffer recently took part in a Q&A with the Anglophone East District Education Council to explain the site selection for the new west end school.

“Community schools are important,” Cardy acknowledged during a virtual media scrum Wednesday. “But it’s also important to make sure we’ve got modern, and acceptable school facilities.”

Cardy said the average age of schools in the province is about 50-years-old right now, meaning there will be many more discussions about school locations moving forward.

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