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County Schools get an ‘F’

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

I feel sorry for County Council. It’s really hard to make a plan for the next 12 months, much less express a vision for the next five years. Why? Because we have about as much control of our future as a blind man in a hot air balloon.

Things are changing so fast that – just when you think you have a plan together – some outside influence throws you a giant curveball. Usually, it’s the provincial government.

Who saw the wind turbine issue coming? Who knew our local rural hospital was about to be castrated (and not even in a properly-outfitted castration room!)? Who predicted the soaring cost of electricity, other than qualified engineers and Ontario power workers whose warnings were pushed aside by a totalitarian political agenda? Who knew MPAC was going to pound up the assessments on farmland? Who knew that provincial contributions to rural infrastructure would be rerouted to serve metro transit concerns. (Well, everybody in rural Ontario – that’s the price you pay for voting Tory! You don’t even get to shut down ridiculous unnecessary power generators unless you’re in a key Liberal riding!)

So the next big issue to waltz out of the darkness is school closings. Technically this is not even an issue Council can deal with – it’s all in the hands of the Hastings-Prince Edward School Board. As Mayor Quaiff pointed out, this is happening all over Ontario, and all the County can do is provide input, and try to deal with another surprise, delivered courtesy of our provincial government.
It seems the writing is on the wall, but I have a few comments to make while this situation is evolving.
First: Yes, I get it. Student populations are dropping, and costs of school operation are increasing along with everything else. It’s too late to start breeding with wild abandon in order to fill our schools with kids. If I’d have seen this coming, I might have been able to help but, based on the number of breeding opportunities I’ve had, I doubt I could fill Pinecrest to overflowing, even in a good week.
Word on the Street has brought me a number of concerns, and these need to be pondered well.
Everyone is wondering if this is going to fall into the traditional scenario, in which the schools are closed, and they are allowed to fall into disrepair and rot. This is a valid concern: North Marysburgh school – with a super view of Glenora below and great potential as a home or business – has been so neglected and heavily vandalized that it is now virtually useless.
Is this to be the fate of our other school buildings? The old South Marysburgh school was a success story, having been purchased and converted, at great expense, into a home with extra rental units. The gymnasium has also been used as an entertainment venue. Perhaps this is the kind of thinking we should apply here.

Having excused Council for being sidelined in the school closings, I should add here that these same concerns apply to County-owned properties. Word on the Street also wonders about the fate of the Town Hall, now that the firefighters have vacated. Any plans? We don’t know. It is certainly a fine old building, though it was barely serviceable as a fire hall. Council has a habit of hanging on to these places until they are useless.
According to newspaper reports, Merlin Dewing (apparently we need to turn around twice and spit when we say his name. We don’t know why) found a whole pile of land and properties the Council owned, that they didn’t know they owned. What became of those? This is not an accusation, just an honest question.
Witness the Hillier Fire Hall. Conrad Beaubien is probably the only person crazy enough to see this wretched, neglected property become a community gathering space, yet Council balks. There’s a chance to be progressive, or just act as hoarders, keeping it until it falls to the ground.

That being said, one more important point. I had the opportunity, through a recent book release, of meeting face-to-face with over 150 Wellington residents. So School Board take note: You will not be tearing down CML Snider School to build a new one.
There’s an enormous amount of passion in this village movement, ranging from the historical significance, to the great memories, to the fact that this sturdy building has many more years of life left in it. There were also a lot of swear words involved in the conversations, but I won’t include them here.
This is a building that cannot be duplicated in modern times, and frankly, there’s no need to recreate it.

The whole thing comes down to one word: Repurposing.
All of the schools, and all of the buildings mentioned here, can live a new life, if in fact these closings are inevitable. People with vision can turn any abandoned or unused building into an attraction. Look at The Local Store, south of Bloomfield, which turned a barn into a retail paradise, complete with an art gallery and hundreds of County-made goods. That’s repurposing. Keep it, fix it, and make it better. Make it survive in a new form.

As usual, the one cog in the wheel is our glorious provincial government, which has legislation stacked higher than the CN tower.
Picture Kente or Pinecrest converted to affordable housing! Council has it on their list as a top priority and yet – and I can’t blame them – doesn’t know how to approach it. These are solid buildings, and present themselves as a natural for abundant rental space.
But I’ve already heard rumours that the legislation requires upgrades in sprinkler systems, fire alarms and God knows what else. The very things the province is doing to destroy retirement homes are the very things they will use to destroy affordable housing efforts.
And this is where Council may come back into the picture. The school properties are owned by the School Board but, if the two groups are willing to work together, the death of our schools may become an asset to the County.
Funny thing is, I remember when Pinecrest was built. I was in the last graduating class from the one-room schoolhouse before it was built, and I was a reporter covering education beat when Kente was built.
I didn’t think I’d outlast them. I hope they will survive. As for me, I just need a little ‘repurposing’.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. james says:

    There is in lower Michigan, east side of the state heading north, a town, Frankenmuth, that has devoted itself to tourist activity.
    At heart is the 3-story elementary school which has repurposed classrooms into retail spaces. There are breweries, wineries, gift shops, restaurants in the town, all designed to attract tourist money. I believe our Quinte area even lays on bus trips to Frankenmuth for days out, seasonal shopping, German-themed Oktoberfest activities, and so on.
    This suggestion is only a suggestion. We could tell provincial Liberals to stuff themselves and not to dump Toronto’s tax and transit problems on rural Ontario. A Carbon Tax is merely a stupid attempt to curtail our mobility and force us to use public transit which barely exists in rural Ontario. My last contractor objected to packing his tools and table-saw into a backpack to sling over his shoulder while hitch-hiking 30 miles across The County.
    By saying our schools are owned by the school board, we are really stating there is a body created by, and funded by taxpayers that we allow to supervise schools supported by our money. It appears to be time we properly take control of our assets and use them to our benefit, K. Wynne be damned. These schools sometimes are heart of a community and should be treated as such. CML Snider is a prime example, as is South Marysburgh and others.
    Let us get off our duffs and direct Wynne and her poor grandaughter out of our sight for the sake of ourselves and our own offspring. It is time we became a mite belligerent in protecting ourselves and our way of life.

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