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Town asks public school board to study feasibility of new school

By DAVID PATTENAUDE

The Petrolia Topic

Petrolia council is asking the Lambton Kent District School Board to study the feasibility of a new school in town in light of overcrowding at Hillcrest School.

Coun. Don Seymour raised the issue at last week's town council meeting, saying the town is "long overdue" for a new public elementary school.

He said two portables are to be placed for the fall session at Hillcrest and there is one there already.

"I would prefer any solution that keeps our children out of portables," he said after the meeting. "There is evidence that says portables are not the ideal for educating our children. Just Google portables and see the mold problems associated with them. An expansion would be much better than portables."

Seymour said he understands the need for temporary portables but adds "the problem is that temporary often becomes permanent.

"I realize expanding or building new schools is not cheap, but it is an investment in our children and in our community," he said. "Petrolia is growing - the last census proved this and the ongoing building of new homes and townhouses indicates growth is continuing."

The public school board has two schools in Petrolia: Hillcrest School is for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 3 while Queen Elizabeth II School is for students in Grades 4-8. They are located in opposite ends of the town.

The St. Clair Catholic District School Board has St. Philip's School in the middle part of Petrolia.

"How cost-effective is it to run two small to mid-size and aging (public) schools?" said Seymour. "And both schools have had environmental issues related to odours and mold. In the long run, I think taxpayers would be better served with one efficient JK to Grade 8 school. Based on the growth of Petrolia, and the condition of the two existing facilities, I think that indicates the possible need for a new school and if they are building portables, that, to me, indicates overcrowding."

Seymour also said portables separate students from the overall school community and reduce interaction among students.

The location for a new public school is obvious, he said.

"We already have two public school properties. Possibly one of them can suffice."

Mayor John McCharles agreed there is an "overcrowding situation" at Hillcrest and Coun. Helen Havlik said Queen Elizabeth II School, built in 1954, is getting old.

Council decided to ask the public school board to do a feasibility study to determine the need for a new school in Petrolia.

Seymour said the study should include demographic research.

"It may be this is just a temporary issue, but I believe there are five or six Grade 1 classes this year at Hillcrest. This would indicate more problems down the road."

Dean Melton, chairman of the Hillcrest Parent Council, said "I don't feel any parent would be excited about a child being in a portable and as a (parent) council, we had discussed the possibility of a new school, additions to the school and the combining of Hillcrest and Queen Elizabeth II School."

Hel said the parent council "fully expects more conversations with regards to an expansion or a new school in the upcoming months when enrolment numbers are fully known, as no one wants to see portables being used."

Melton said parent council was aware in May of the new portables being brought to the school grounds because this was discussed as it knew of increased enrolment.

But in May, when the discussion took place, the concern was that the (enrolment) numbers for the school were still preliminary and "...a lot of things can change over a summer," said Melton.

Board education director Gayle Stucke said the board reviews accommodation issues in all school areas on an annual basis and added "...the growth in the Hillcrest side of Petrolia continues to be monitored."

She said portables are only intended for use on a "...temporary basis with the expectation of enrolment balancing off to a number that could be accommodated in the main building."

The board will have more reliable data to share in September when actual enrolment numbers are confirmed, said Stucke.

The October Pupil Accommodation Report will recommend to trustees school areas which will be under review in the next year and possibly future years, she said.