By Richard Bell
The Eastern Shore District High school-replacement pot continues to simmer away. Over the last two years, the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA) has succeeded in getting the Halifax Regional School Board to include replacing ESDH on its official list of recommendations to the province.
Now MLA Kevin Murphy has asked his constituents in a letter for their thoughts on a more complicated dish, combining ESDH, Gaetz Brook Junior High, and École des Beaux-Marais, “with a goal of getting the biggest bang for our educational infrastructure buck.” (Students at Beaux-Marais who want to continue in the French system after grade 6 now have to travel in to Dartmouth.)
Murphy wrote that he had “heard from plenty of parents and students from all three schools who are in favour of this.” He asked people to send him letters or emails with their thoughts “on the need for new education infrastructure on the Eastern Shore,” which he would deliver to provincial officials and the two school boards. (Go to "Murphy's Three School Replacement Letter" to read the full text of the letter.)
“We’ve had a good response so far,” Murphy said in a phone interview. “I’ve already sent several dozen letters to the Premier, the Minister of Education, and the HRSB Superintendent. All of the letters are supportive of the concept. People are generally of the opinion that we need to replace all of these schools.”
Murphy’s scheduled meeting with the Premier and the Minister of Education was disrupted by the teachers’ strike, but he said that he had been talking informally over the last weeks with the Premier, the Minister of Education, and a number of the other principal players in what would be a complex decision-making process. “My priority remains to get progress on the high school front, but I want to make sure we at least explore these other two possibilities.”
In creating a three-school “campus,” Murphy emphasized the importance of protecting the cultural aspects of the Acadian school, which he thought would be easier to do with separate buildings instead of locating all three schools under one roof. “Having a separate building gives the Acadian students the opportunity to maintain a cultural distinctness in the entire learning environment,” Murphy said.
Murphy also emphasized the importance of not losing track of what could be done to repurpose the existing school buildings. “This is a conversation I started having a couple of years back,” he said. “Housing is one of the biggest challenges we face, especially for people on fixed incomes or seniors. The province does have a program for repurposing old schools.”
District 1 School Board member Bridget Boutilier said that the Halifax Regional School Board “had not talked about this proposal yet. It’s never been formally introduced, but it’s an idea that’s been kicking around. The enrollment at the French school is going up, so the French board is very anxious to build a new school.”
In a statement to the Cooperator, Michel Comeau, superintendent of the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP), acknowledged the growing student population at Beaux-Marais. "The student population on the Eastern Shore is in continuous growth. École des Beaux-Marais has been a great addition to our schoolboard and is allowing this community to grow. We are anticipating enrollment to continue rising and are exploring all possibilities for this community."
Lucien Comeau, a member of the CSAP, told the Cooperator that “The board has not talked about” the Murphy proposal, but that given that “there has been quite a rise in students going over there, I’m sure the subject will come to light” at an upcoming meeting.
The Community Campus Vision Association’s Jean McKenna said that her group, “totally supports” looking at combining the three schools. “We’ve been talking about this combination for some time,” she said. “People from Beaux-Marais and the Acadian board have expressed an interest in CCVA actively pursuing including a new Acadian school. If we could share facilities with the French students, it would be a win-win for both school boards.” McKenna said that CCVA did not have a design in mind for a 3-school campus.