Opinion Editorial

High school issue is black and white

There really aren't five options for Barrie Central Collegiate, there are two.

Keep it open, or close it.

The accommodation review committee (ARC), which will be making a recommendation on Central's fate to the Simcoe County District School Board, presented its choices at Tuesday's public meeting.

First was the board administration option to close Central in 2012, send its students to other city high schools and apply for provincial funding to build a new south-end school.

That choice was met with a chorus of boos from the audience, not a surprise given the meeting was held at Barrie Central.

Next was rebuilding Central at another downtown site and selling the current property. Good luck convincing local school trustees, let alone the Ontario Education Ministry, to do this.

Third would be amalgamating Central with Barrie North Collegiate, which is already over its capacity, and dispersing pupils at nearby Oakley Park Public School to other schools.

Unless trustees want to be screamed at by Oakley Park parents, this should be crossed off the list.

Then there's the idea of creating a magnet school at Central, one of unique, enhanced programs and better-incorporating W.A. Fisher Auditorium.

Which means the same as keeping Central open, the fifth option, until at least 2016. This also means the school board would have to deal with some basic structural and maintenance issues at Central, such as its furnace.

Partnerships would also have to be secured -- with the private sector, Georgian College, even Laurentian University -- and the downtown's demographics, along with its planned intensification, would have to be considered in the school's future.

So it boils down to shuttering Central, or finding a way to keep it open -- as is, rebuilding it, with partners, public or private.

It's become abundantly clear what most Central students and their parents want -- their school to remain open. Ditto for those in the elementary schools feeding Central.

City council also wants it to stay open. The city is trying to revitalize this area and what it doesn't need is another school there closing, another reason why people don't want to live in the core.

City officials, politicians and staff, continue to be perplexed at a provincial government which designates Barrie's core as an urban growth centre, yet allows local education boards to close schools there.

Make no mistake what SCDSB administrators want to do with Central. Close it. Rather than spend $19.3 million in the next five years to repair the school and replace its boiler, pipes and structural framing, the preference is to build a new school in the south end for $20 million-plus.

The Central property and that of nearby Prince of Wales, which is closing in June, could be sold and that revenue could offset the new school's cost (although board officials would say these are separate funding envelopes).

And the truth of the matter is that a new school in south-Barrie will eventually have to be built whether Central closes or not. That is where the growth is happening, and will continue to happen.

The ARC has one more public meeting, on Feb. 22, and then must make its recommendation by March 2 to school trustees.

By now, they know how their Barrie constituents feel about Central. They know how city councillors feel. They know how school administrators feel.

It's either or.

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