Opinion Editorial

Central's fate rests with new trustees

Making noise is one thing, being heard is another.

There is considerable opposition to the Simcoe County District School Board closing Barrie Central Collegiate.

Tuesday's accommodation review committee (ARC) heard opposition from current Barrie Central students, new Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman and Jack Garner, a Central graduate, former city councillor and former public school trustee.

There was a common thread to their comments, besides opposing Central's closing.

The Dunlop Street West high school is still viable, they said, still necessary and there are real options to closing it.

Grade 12 student Alison Mac- Dougall said provincial money could fund a new, environmentally friendly furnace to replace Central's old heater. And that it could be turned into a specialized school, from kindergarten to Grade 12. Partnerships with businesses could be formed.

Lehman noted this isn't just a Barrie Central issue, that it also affects the other four public city high schools -- Innisdale, Barrie North, Eastview and Bear Creek.

These schools are already full, and adding 900 to 1,000 students to them will just increase an overcrowded situation.

School board administrators have made public a staff option to close Central in 2012, redistribute its students to the other four Barrie high schools and apply for provincial funding for a new school in the south end.

But as Garner pointed out, the provincial government is throwing around nickels like manhole covers these days. Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals have racked up considerable debt attempting to prop up the Ontario economy. Building a new secondary school in Barrie right after one has just been closed might not be a fiscal priority.

And there might be a new sheriff in Queen's Park by then. There's a provincial election next October, and the Grits aren't exactly looking strong in the latest public opinion polls.

Closing Central should also be unpopular with the new Barrie city council, which will be sworn in Monday.

The last two councils have made attempts -- some successful, some not -- to redevelop downtown Barrie. Financial support for the MacLaren Art Centre, the Collier Street parking garage and building the Downtown Community Theatre are just some of what has been accomplished.

A hotel/convention centre and redeveloping some of the more prominent vacant lots -- at the Five Points, for example -- remain elusive.

But part of the plan is to encourage more people to live downtown, so they will shop downtown, and some huge residential development along the lakeshore are in the works.

The idea is to create a community where people can live, play and work. What should also be included is schools for children and teenagers.

Nearby King Edward school has already been closed by the board, replaced with Unity Christian High School. Prince of Wales School, right beside Barrie Central, will close at the end of this school year.

If Central is shuttered in 2012, it will leave downtown Barrie without any public or Catholic schools -- which is counter-productive to what council wants to accomplish.

School board staff know what they want to do, close Central and build a new high school in south- Barrie. But it's not their decision.

That falls to the trustees, elected on Oct. 25. These are the people who will decide Central's fate, and who will also influence the quality of life in this city's downtown.

The question now is are they listening.



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