By Richard Bell
At a meeting on the possibilities for new schools on the Eastern Shore on October 6 at the École des Beaux-Marais, Jean McKenna, one of the founders of the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA), presented forceful arguments for replacing several Eastern Shore schools, especially Eastern Shore District High School (ESDH).
McKenna has been investigating problems at ESDH for some time as part of CCVA’s support for a controversial “campus” project that MLA Kevin Murphy first unveiled during the summer of 2014. Speaking to a Musquodoboit Harbour civic association, Murphy proposed moving ESDH, the HRM recreation center, and the Birches nursing home to a “campus” in the Eastern Shore Industrial Park in East Chezzetcook. There was significant pushback against this proposal.
At the opening of the October 6th meeting, McKenna told the large crowd that CCVA had decided to drop its support for the “campus” concept, and focus exclusively on replacing Eastern Shore District High School, Gaetz Brook Junior High, and École des Beaux-Maris.
“We’ve recognized the practicalities,” McKenna said. “While it’s a great concept, it’s impractical. You’d have to involve bringing together, in the same tent, the Department of Health, the municipality, the Department of Education, and the School Board for those four separate items. You can’t do that. It would not work. It would delay everything. And so we are now focused on the school.”
“We’re not opposed to the idea of campus. We’re not opposed if we got a new school, and if a site selection committee picked a site, we would hope that they might consider a site that would be able to incorporate all the elements.”
“However that is not our focus today, and our focus today is not to locate a new school. Our focus today is on replacement of Eastern Shore District High School, Gaetz Brook Junior High School, and the École des Beaux Marais.”
Turning to her report on the status of new schools, McKenna walked the crowd through her thorough research, primarily on the 51-year-old Eastern Shore District High. McKenna said she was “frustrated” and “angry” with both the School Board staff and DOE for not being more forthcoming.
McKenna praised District 1 School Board member Bridget Boutilier for fighting for a new ESDH this spring. When the school was not on the draft list, “Bridget made a motion, drew her wagons in a circle, and she amended that list,” McKenna said. “For the first time ever, ESDH is on the list for possible replacement. We made a giant step there. The province has the list, now it’s up to the Minister to decide where the funds should go.”
McKenna reviewed a series of problems at ESDH, starting with how out-of-date its facilities were. She said the city was spending thousands of dollars for the delivery of 3 truck loads of water to the school, and that the sewage processing facility it shares with the hospital and the Birches was inadequate. She said that the province’s projections of declining school populations were "completely wrong" given housing construction plans.
And she was very concerned about discoveries of asbestos over the years at ESDH. Her frustration led her to file a Freedom of Information request in August “to find out what happened between 1998 and 2015 to the asbestos. It looks like nothing happened, except for material discovered during renovations.” McKenna had far less information about Gaetz Brook and the École des Beaux Marais.
For further information on CCVA’s work, please check out the Community Campus Vision Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/communitycampusvision/)