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ARC hand-off set: Barrie Central's future on the table

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Seven months of public meetings and brainstorming sessions have come to an end.

The accommodation review committee (ARC) looking into the future of Barrie's five public high schools - and specifically Barrie Central - has completed its report and will be presenting it to Simcoe County District School Board trustees at a special meeting Tuesday night at the Midhurst administration centre.

The ARC's recommendation suggests keeping Barrie Central open while the school board "actively" pursues partners - as per the facility partnership's policy. It could include private-sector organizations - with the intention of rebuilding the downtown high school on the same site. A partnership agreement would need to be in place by Dec. 31, 2014 or the ARC staff option would be implemented with time lines adjusted by the board.

The ARC's report also suggests the board create a business plan for a new high school in the city's south end that would also include partnerships.

Trustees will also hear a staff report about the Barrie ARC. The original staff report in September suggested closing Barrie Central in June 2012, meaning a decision to close the school would need to be made by June 2011.

The latest staff report suggests closing the school on June 30, 2015 and approving a business case for a new south end high school. It also suggests pursuing partnerships until Sept. 30, 2013.

If those partnerships are not in place by then, a business case would be made for closing the school and redistributing the students to the other four high schools.

Barrie ARC member - and Barrie Central student mother - Pam Burke said she is happy the more recent staff recommendation that is "very similar" to the ARC's recommendation, in one regard at least.

"I am very pleased to see that staff agree to keep Barrie Central open until at least June 2015 and partnerships will be pursued to rebuild Barrie Central," she said. "As for the ARC recommendation, I disagree that we should be submitting a business case for a south end school immediately.

"The purpose of this ARC was to address Barrie Central and I feel that should be addressed before the growth school in the south."

Burke acknowledges that some day, there will be a need for another secondary school in the south end.

"But until that development starts and the students are there to fill a school, why build the school now? Why not wait until there is more information and details surrounding this development?" she asked. "There is no infrastructure in the annexed land and no plans for infrastructure until approximately 2016. Why are we seeking approval to build a school when there are no roads, sewage, water, etc., in the annexed land?"

If solid partnerships are established and Barrie Central is rebuilt, an attendance area review would reduce the enrolment at Innisdale and increase the population at Barrie Central, she said.

"This would delay the need for a south end growth school and support enrolment at Barrie Central. I feel Barrie Central should be the primary focus and the growth school should be secondary," she said.

Central student mom Ann Franssen thought the ARC was more open and more transparent than the last accommodation review she took part in involving Prince of Wales School.

"I thought it was an improvement. It was more proactive than reactive. There was a lot more than just information from staff. Trustees were really involved, too," she said. "When (the committee) works as a team, they end up coming together so everybody's opinion is heard."

Trustees can still vote for something entirely different than the ARC report and come up with their own recommendation, or they might accept the ARC's recommendation with changes, Franssen said.

She wants to keep an eye on board proceedings over the next few months to make sure the Prince of Wales - located next to Central and scheduled to close in June - site doesn't go up for sale.

"If they are keen on giving partnerships a shot, they shouldn't sell Prince of Wales," she said. "Without that property, it will be difficult to get partnerships."

Partnerships are also on the mind of Dr. Anita Arvast, who has sat through two previous ARCs.

She agrees this ARC "was the most democratic and transparent" of the three, but she still has concerns.

"I don't know that the time or resources are going to be devoted (by the board) to finding partnerships," she said. "I also am concerned that the trustees need to open up their thinking about partnerships beyond just school partners.

"We have seen some excellent ideas coming forward from the public about possibilities to keep Central open, as well as provide schooling for all of Barrie."

Tonight's meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., does not allow for decisions or delegations. It is for trustees to hear the ARC and staff report presentations and to ask any questions they may have about the presentations and reports.

The next ARC board meeting will receive delegations from community members on Thursday, April 14. Anyone wishing to present a delegation must submit their request with a written copy of the presentation and/or an outline to Lena Robyn, executive assistant to the board, by 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 7.

If more than 20 delegations register, a second meeting to hear delegations will be held on April 19.

No decisions will be made at those meetings, which are to provide another opportunity for trustees to hear community feedback.

The final ARC Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 31. No delegations will be heard at this meeting and trustees will make their decisions about Barrie Central.

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