By Richard Bell
Parents at the Ecole des Beaux Marais (EdBM) are stepping up their efforts to persuade the province to build a new school to replace the aging, increasingly overcrowded facility in Porters Lake.
“We started working on getting a new school in 2017,” said Michelle Burgess, one of the leaders of the committee working for a new school. “We’ve written letters to all of our elected officials, and last year we produced three short videos making our case. Now we’re kicking off a petition campaign with a table at the Atlantic Superstore to get support from people outside the school community.”
There’s no question the building has serious deficiencies. “Our kids are in an elementary school that was built in the 1950s, with an addition in the 1970s,” Burgess said, “This building was only ever designed to function as an elementary school, never as a secondary school. It’s the oldest school in Nova Scotia still housing an active school.”
The all-French school began seven years ago, after the Halifax Regional School Board abandoned the building when Porters Lake Elementary was completed.
The first class had 14 kids, and has been growing every year. The official building capacity is 196 students, but there are already 237 students in attendance.
“Last year, the CSAP declared that the school was going to be pre-primary to grade 12,” Burgess said. “We’re already overcapacity. The board claims to have found enough space within the building to get our kids to grad 9. But they have no idea what to do after that.”
The decision to expand the school to P-12 has only focused parents’ attention on the school’s already well known deficiencies. There’s no gym; students are forced to use a multi-purpose room. This room also serves as an auditorium. But it’s so small that the school was forced to hold the Christmas concert over 2 days to accommodate all the parents.
“We’ve been fine using the building as an elementary school,” Burgess said. “But now we’ve got a junior high school class. Kids in high school are taking more specialized courses; there’s no room for a science lab, or a music room.”
The school also lacks a regulation size sports field, so there are no organized sports that take place outside. There is a league in which French high schools compete, but the only sport that EdBM students have competed in is handball.
Parents have reached out to Education Minister Zack Churchill, who has the ultimate decision over whether to allocate funds from the department’s capital budget. Burgess said her committee was hoping to meet with Churchill soon.
Replacing EdBM has gotten entangled in plans for replacing Eastern Shore District High. Churchill’s decision to replace ESDH brought out calls for replacing Gaetz Brook Junior High and building a combined junior high/senior high. Then EdBM could take over the Gaetz Brook building.
“Our community is against this Gaetz Brook maneuver,” Burgess said. “There are already lots of problems there. People wanting French schools are always getting second-hand schools from the English school boards. Our community is sick of it.”
There have also been suggestions to co-locate the new English high school with a pre-K-12 French school. Burgess said that it would take a full case study to make sure that there would be a complete separation of the operations of the two schools. “The reason the province didn’t do away with the French school board when they shut down all the regional school boards is because of the French board’s mandate to reverse English assimilation,” Burgess said.
[For more information, go to the Facebook group “EdBM Needs a New School!” You can watch the 3 videos at www.edbm.hali.ca.]