Proposed boundaries for 2 long-awaited Bedford schools raising eyebrows

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New plan to deal with capacity issues in N.S. schools
This week parents reported that grade 5 and 6 students from a Bedford school will be relocating to a former junior high school building. Ashley Fied reports. – Jun 11, 2020

Families in Bedford — a suburban community in Halifax — are looking forward to two new schools slated to open next September that would accept children in grades pre-primary to 12.

While the schools, located on the same site, are highly anticipated and much needed, the proposed boundaries for their catchment areas are leaving some parents frustrated.

Specifically, some students will be expected to continue to take a school bus to their current school despite the fact the new one might be steps away.

“Anybody that can walk to a school should be able to go to that school. It makes the most sense,” said Anette Goodwin, the parent of a Grade 4 student in the area.

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The province announced the pre-primary to Grade 8 school in April 2018 as a way to address overcrowding in the classrooms. In 2019, the province further announced a new high school at the same site on Broad Street off Larry Uteck Boulevard.

The move came after years of exponential growth in the area and enrolment pressures.

To highlight the need, a decision was made in 2018 to switch some incoming Grade 6 students from Basinview Drive Community School to Rocky Lake Junior High. At the time, Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) said more than half of the 27 classes at Basinview exceeded provincial class size guidelines.

Since then, HRCE has tried shuffling some students to other schools, while waiting for the Broad Street schools to be completed.

Click to play video: 'Students in Halifax-area school transferring after overcrowding'
Students in Halifax-area school transferring after overcrowding

Goodwin’s son is currently taking the school bus to Basinview.

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Back in 2012, when her family bought the house in the Stonington Park neighbourhood of West Bedford, she said even the real estate agent indicated a school would be built there. The couple expected their future children would be able to attend that school.

Ten years later, the proposed boundaries set out by HRCE mean their son would not be eligible to attend the new school at the elementary or junior high level — despite the fact it’s closer to their home.

“This school is less than a kilometre away from our house. And our son is expected to still bus to Basinview and still bus across Bedford to Rocky Lake Junior down the road when he goes to junior high,” she said.

“So it’s pretty upsetting.”

Goodwin said the process of building new schools has been talked about for far too long, and all the while, the population of Bedford has continued to grow.

It’s a situation that has put families like hers in a difficult position.

“I think that’s why the school board decided to divide West Bedford into different catchment areas, because we are so many kids in our area. However, this school is being built in our direct community. It’s built in Stonington Park and they have omitted Stonington Park kids from going to that school,” she said.

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The two new Broad Street schools are targeted to be opened for the 2023-24 school year. Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Bryen Mooney, who also lives in Stonington Park, has three children attending Basinview. Like Goodwin, her family also bought their home in 2012 and was expecting a new school to be built on Broad Street.

Ironically, Mooney can literally see Broad Street from their home but will not be able to send her children to that school under the proposed boundaries.

“We can see Broad Street out our back windows and have a walking trail to Broad right around the corner, making us also one of the closest walking students to the school,” she explained.

“The announcement of the school came before many of the other parts of West Bedford (and Bedford South) were even commenced and most definitely not completed. Now they are choosing to bus students from Bedford South to our school, while bussing us in the opposite direction.”

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She said their children are already often late for school because their buses have to navigate traffic on Hammonds Plains Road, and that attending Rocky Lake Middle School will be even worse because it’s further.

Virtual town hall

A spokesperson for HRCE said the consultation for the Broad Street schools is still in its early stages. HRCE is collecting feedback through a two-month-long virtual town hall.

From now until Jan. 3, 2023, parents and community members within the Charles P. Allen family of schools can share their thoughts on the proposed boundaries, on the proposed grade configurations and explore the idea of letting families choose which high school to attend.

Since launching the town hall one week ago, HRCE has heard from more than 1,300 participants who submitted nearly 900 comments.

“We are excited to see this level of community engagement as we work to create new boundaries for two brand new schools,” wrote spokesperson Kelly Connors in an email.

“Please be assured that no decisions have been made, and all feedback will be considered as we move from proposal to plan.”

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The feedback will be used by the regional executive director of education to determine the final boundaries. That decision will also be based on the latest enrolment projections for the area, which is released in January.

‘We will need more schools again’

Bedford South MLA Braedon Clark said he began receiving calls immediately after HRCE released its proposed boundaries, and understands why families are frustrated.

He has met with parents, and plans to organize a meeting between them and HRCE.

“Basically, the idea in my mind is to include all of Stonington Park. So we’re talking four or five streets — but you know, dozens and dozens of houses. It’s quite dense in there. And the flip side of that, of course, is when you include something, you then have to adjust somewhere else,” he said.

“We’re talking about a boundary review that’s really complicated. And I give HRCE full credit on that.”

To further complicate things, Clark said the communities in Bedford are continuing to see rapid growth. The new schools might simply not be enough to alleviate the overcrowding.

“My expectation is that that (new) school will probably be full the day it opens,” he said.

He pointed out that all the schools in the area are at capacity and most have brought in portable buildings in recent years to deal with the influx of students.

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“My son is in primary and his school is, I think, 150 to 200 kids over what it was built for. And that’s not unusual,” he added.

Clark, whose riding of Bedford South was created 2019 in response to growth, said the communities will only continue to expand.

“The province has announced these new special planning areas, which will basically … fast track housing development. There’s three of them in my riding and the total is 10,000 units,” he said.

“So that’s 20,000 to 25,000 people over the next decade or so. But if you’re bringing in 20,000 people, I don’t know the math, but you’ll need several new schools. So, yes, we will need more schools again sooner rather than later.”

Click to play video: 'Halifax schools see increasing number of classes exceeding student cap'
Halifax schools see increasing number of classes exceeding student cap

Parent Bryen Mooney agrees, and said the province should make the move now and start on opening another new school.

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She doesn’t want the situation with the Broad Street schools’ boundaries to be repeated in the future.

“There is still so much more growth in both West Bedford and Bedford South. We are a very young community, with kids constantly playing in the streets,” she said.

“We have been pushing for a school since Stonington Park commenced, and now we are being declined from the school that originally became a requirement because of our community, and because the government did not act quick enough to the demands our community would put on the schools.”

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