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Barrie Central: Sense of possibility

Marg. Bruineman - Barrie Examiner

The school board's decision to give Barrie Central Collegiate a chance is quickly gaining traction with potential partners and the community.

Barrie Central will stay open for at least another five years. Its future relies upon the school board nailing down solid partnerships by Sept. 30, 2014.

Simcoe County District School Board trustees decided Tuesday night to give the downtown Barrie high school a chance for a future.

The decision buys everyone some time to hammer out a plan to replace the school, with a little help from its friends.

A partner can be another education facility, or elsewhere in the public or private sectors. The idea is to share the bill with another organization that wants to build something that would work well associated to the high school.

"We're excited about pursuing this opportunity and we think there is potential for supporting our students" through a business plan including partners, said Paul Sloan, the public board's superintendent of education. "Are there natural partnerships that can be formed?"

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman's answer to that question is a resounding yes.

He points at the Central site, the Red Storey Field to the west of it owned by the city, and the Prince of Wales property next door - 20 acres all told, right in the core of a city, which has essentially run out of land. The city owns a couple of small, undeveloped lots to the east of the high school parking lot, as well.

"This is why it's such an awesome opportunity," said Lehman. "These opportunities come along so rarely in a city's history."

Lehman easily envisions a few scenarios for the combined properties. One possibility is to incorporate the historic Prince of Wales structure, which is being retired as an elementary school next month, into a new high school plan. This would leave plenty of space for a partner, such as a post-secondary institution.

Those developments, combined with others in the core, would create a demand for a parking facility, which the city could build.

"We have, all the way along, said we would like to be part of the solution," said Lehman. "By virtue of what we're trying to do with downtown, we could also help with the process, play as big a role as they allow."

It's a bit early to throw out specific ideas, said Georgian College's vice president of marketing and student services, Bob Kennedy, but the interest and the need is there. The college is completing its final major structure on its east-end Barrie campus. Further expansion would require it to look off campus for space.

"At Georgian, we are always interested in exploring partnerships that expand opportunities for students and also have a positive economic and social impact on our communities," said Kennedy.

The city and the college have talked about developing a downtown campus. Similar talks have taken place with Laurentian University.

And Georgian president Brian Tamblyn did make a presentation before the ARC (accommodation review committee) earlier this year outlining two options - moving the School of Design and Visual Arts to the core, or to relocate the University Partnership Centre there.

Either of which has the potential to transform the heart of the city, said Kennedy.

"Georgian included the downtown campus development in our most recent capital submission to the ministry,"?he said.

Kennedy expects that only one of the two projects will receive provincial funding support. But either way, he said, it's win-win.

Barrie Central parent Pam Burke is pumped by the options. She joined the ARC as a fervent support of Central and she's relatively happy with the board's decision. The future of the property will make the school that much more exciting.

"The potential of those partnerships could prove to be very exciting for downtown Barrie," she said. "It could become an educational hub right in the core of Barrie. It puts fire to the feet of Jeff Lehman and the partners now."

Even if the partners, and their money, are delivered on a silver platter, there's still a great deal of work before the school board.

"There's still a few significant hoops we have to go through," said Sloan.

Any plans board staff come up with have to be approved by the school board and then the provincial education ministry.

This won't be a first for the board. A new high school in Angus is being built to contain the new Essa Township library. And the health unit recently converted some unused classrooms in Midland into office space.

Partners will also be sought as the board starts developing its plans to build a south-end school.

The board wants to get the word out that it's open for business and a public information meeting has been scheduled at the school board office in Midhurst June 9 at 7 p.m.

The facility partnerships meeting is meant to engage people in business and the community.

mbruineman@thebarrieexaminer.com



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