Eleventh hour battle to keep Connaught open

Connaught School supporters will be fighting an eleventh hour battle to keep their school open tonight. Trustees will consider a recommendation to close the school in June, based mainly on liability and insurance issues. A recent community survey shows the vast majority of Connaught School families and residents want the school to stay open and they want to be involved in developing a satisfactory renewal plan.

The province recently approved funding for renewal planning but Regina Public won’t get a budget approval for construction until April 2015 at earliest. Parents have raised concerns that the rush to relocate Connaught students into hastily organized facilities is more costly than making recommended repairs to stay open, and will put their kids’ health and learning experiences at risk. As well, a poorly planned transition is poised to jeopardize future enrolment viability.

 

“For the sake of schools across Saskatchewan, we can’t allow Regina Public to willfully launch an era where consultants, lawyers and insurance agents become the sole arbitrators of school decisions, with no meanningful community engagement,” said Rene Dumont, chair of Save Our Connaught. “This is a precedent-setting moment for schools across the city and province.”

“It is time for Regina Public to stop jumping on any opportunity to prematurely close the school, and to work with the community and their consultants to actually find solutions.”

A fundraising campaign that set out to raise $10,000 for repairs by April 14 has already reached $4,600 in online donations and $3,900 in cash donations. A cheque will be presented at the meeting, along with presentations from students, parents, Cathedral business operators and community supporters.

“We are doing our part, and now we fully expect our educational leaders to go to bat for families. They need to sit down with the engineer and the insurance company and map out all the requirements to be met in the coming year,” said Kate Smart, who will present a cheque at the meeting.

In public meetings, petitions and surveys, the community has been calling for additional opinions and estimates on the building’s condition, even offering to pay the costs.

A recent engineering report states that to remain open in 2015 the school must receive repairs, including replacing some broken floor tiles in the kitchen area, bracing an exterior wall crack, and filling in a hole created for a dryer vent years ago. Repairs initially pegged at $25,000 have been upped to $67,000 since February, now including $25,000 contingency for unforeseen repairs and $15,000 for monitoring. However, the amount is relatively minor, and much higher costs will be incurred to prepare a relocation school, and transport the children, noted Smart.

The push to remain in the school for as long as possible has been spurred on by a recent community survey, in which just 11 per cent of families said they were likely to follow the board’s choice of relocation school. “With families poised to scatter in different directions, the ‘gift’ of a new school may well be the school’s demise,” said Dumont.

Connaught families and community members strongly expressed their preference to remain in the school at a public meeting held on February 25, and again in recent surveys conducted by the board and community supporters. The community survey also found 88.9 per cent of parents and 89.7 per cent of all respondents want the school to remain open up to 2015 at minimum.

Significant majorities also want a second opinion and additional repairs for occupancy past 2015. In media statements this week, Ministry officials said going forward there must be third-party verification of school conditions, something that might have helped the Connaught community gain an independent assessment, had the policy been in place earlier. “I think because of Connaught, this has been flagged as an issue,” said Dumont.

School history and heritage was stated as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to 86.1 per cent of parents and 83.9 per cent of all respondents. The results show community members want fuller consideration of renewal plans options that were discarded by Regina Public. This will involve pro-active working meetings with the board’s insurer, engineering, additional experts and community members, but it is not impossible, said Dumont.

In contrast, substandard relocation options and likely construction delays threaten to leave the current school population in a marginal learning environment for several years, and could quickly leave the school without a viable student population. The Ministry of Education has launched a new capital funding plan that ties school rebuild funds to enrolment.

While the board points to potential health and safety issues at Connaught, there are known safety complaints in at least two of the suggestion relocation schools, Dumont said. “If we are talking the difference between potential problems and known problems, we need full disclosure on the situation at relocation schools before the kids get on buses.”

The board’s report also makes reference to legal duty of care, but supporters say this is a two way street. “Years of ignored recommendations to fix the school, a hastily planned relocation, the enhanced risk of bus travel, students in prime learning years receiving a marginalized education experience – these things also carry legal implications for duty of care,” said Smart.

“We need to slow down and get this right,” added Smart. Community supporters and parents are asking for the board to guarantee a replacement school in writing, if they choose to close Connaught in June. They also want the board to work out a plan with their engineer and insurers to meet requirements for opening in September. Finally, they would like additional opinions and cost estimates for the school.

BACKGROUNDER

A detailed sample survey conducted by Connaught school community members found that an overwhelming number of respondents want the school to stay open, and its heritage to be respected. The survey involved 88 respondents, including parents representing 17 per cent of Connaught families

· Almost all respondents want the current school to remain open past June 2014. In total, 88.9 per cent of parents and 89.7 per cent of all respondents chose options that would see the school remain open up 2015 at minimum, with significant majorities of each group advocating additional repairs and occupancy beyond 2015.

· In the event of a closure, parents/ caregivers prefer options that were suggested by the community. Options suggested by the board ranked relatively low, but ranked high among options identified as completely unacceptable.

· Respondents think a school in the neighbourhood is very important (87.5 per cent), but very few think a new school is important (3.5 per cent). Parents and community members alike feel it is more important to renew the current school.

· Heritage matters. It is not a side issue. School history and heritage was stated as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to 86.1 per cent of parents and 83.9 % of all respondents.

· Just 11.1 per cent said they are likely to follow a board relocation plan. This raises alarm bells concerning the potential impact major construction and relocation may have on future sustainability of the Ecole Connaught school community – particularly if the relocation options are substandard and major construction projects in the City, such as the stadium and bypass, cause delays in school construction.

· An analysis of open-ended responses to a school board survey, which was filled out by 102 parents, yielded the same consensus as the community survey, with repair of the school the most frequently mentioned desired option, followed by gaining a second opinion and renovating the school for use beyond 2015.
Copies of these and additional reports are available on this website, under ”Important Docs.”

Structural issues: An engineering report received by the board in February states, “Unless major structural upgrades are implemented, the building will soon become unsafe to occupy.” The community wants those structural upgrades to be undertaken. The board received estimates on the following immediate repairs, which would allow safe operation in 2014-2015:

REPAIRS ESTIMATED COST
The existing crack on the South East corner of the building be braced. $10,000
Re-pointing – Exterior front stairs, brick wall above southwest entrance, brick wall on northeast corner $5,000
North front stairs be blocked off at the bottom of the stairs to deter students from climbing or sitting on them. $1,000
Infill and fix holes and deterioration in the west brick wall in the boiler room, caretaker room, and Mechanical room a djacent to the Janitor room. $5,000
Fix separated, broken and bulging tiles in the Nutrition Room and Wise Owl Room on the Main floor and broken floor slab in the Gymnasium at the side door $5,000
The mechanical shaft on the floor below the roof be properly covered. $1,000
Estimated cost for monitoring Inspections to June 2015 $15,000
Allowance for unforeseen I emergency repairs $25 000
TOTAL= $67,000

Although the repair estimates provide an option to keep the school open, parents are battling what appears to be a long-standing pattern of neglect and pre-determined decisions. In advance of any vote being taken, a letter from JC Kenyon Engineer dated last August states, “It is our understanding that this school will be closed in the near future.”

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