This is in response to Richard Bell's recent comments in the Co-operator:
Richard Bell wears two hats, in his Eastern Shore Cooperator November edition. Under “news”, wearing his journalist hat, he opines about the future of the Birches, with a collateral kick at the Community Campus concept, and then under “Opinions”, he takes another (paternalistic) swipe at the campus concept, suggesting that those supporting the campus are well meaning, but misguided souls.
Mr. Bell argues that to issue an RFP for construction of a new Birches will put the operators of the Birches in a “bidding war” against “deep pocketed national for-profit nursing home corporations”. This comment reflects a misunderstanding by Mr. Bell of the system of senior care by the Department of Health in Nova Scotia. The defacto “operators” of the Birches is the Department of Health, through a hard working volunteer board of directors. Mr. Bell's choice of words seems intended to strike fear in the hearts of his readers – “deep pockets, national, for profit, corporation”; everything in that little package but great white sharks. But Mr. Bell does not deny the need for the new Birches. Nor does he deny, and in fact strongly supports, the need for a new school.
Mr. Bell's thoughts emerge from his pursuit of the issue from the outset, (a community meeting of Musquodoboit area residents in the late summer of 2014), and most recently, his attendance at a public meeting, organized by the Community Campus Vision Association, on October 28, 2015. CCVA have spent a year examining all aspects of a campus, which would include a senior's facility, recreation facility (to possibly include 2 ice pads, exercise space, and even, dare we hope, an swimming pool), a school to replace Eastern Shore District High and Gaetz Brook Junior High, including a decent auditorium, and an Acadian school, to provide continuation of french language education to the present Ecole Beau Marais, now at best only able to provide such education to grade six.
There can be no doubt that there is a real need for all of these facilities, and the various bodies responsible for them, will provide them. Even Mr. Bell acknowledges the need for a new high school, and a second ice pad, and he correctly notes that a replacement for the Birches is on the way. What he questions is the need for such facilities to be co-located. He asserts that the 'campus concept' is having a negative impact “,,,on the lives of the people of the Eastern Shore”. He describes “...strong opposition on display at the October 28 meeting”.
I am not sure that Mr. Bell and I were at the same meeting.
The meeting took place after the members of the CCVA spent a year of research, and discussions with numerous local organizations, such as school advisory committees, community associations, sports organizations, etc. There was, and is, in fact, strong support for the concept, and the need. The purpose of the large community meeting was to provide information, clear away misconceptions and rumors, and to provide a forum for people to ask questions. The audience for the most part was courteous, their questions well thought out, and responses were easily provided, by members of the committee, other members of the community, our MLA Kevin Murphy, and HRM Councilor David Hendsbee. Misconceptions and rumors, such as “a site has been selected”, and the CCVA was a “secret committee” supposedly formed by Mr. Murphy, were easily dispelled. There was absolutely no “strong opposition”; the only negatives were expressed by a small group of individuals (opposed since day 1), who continue to fight the concept unless the campus is located in Musquodoboit Harbour. The newly formed Musquodoboit Harbour Chamber of Commerce and Civic Affairs endorsed the concept, both before and at the meeting, but again, couching their support in a Musquodoboit Harbour location. Apparently they have revisited their position, in that they now say they don't support a “campus vision”, but a “community vision”.
Mr. Bell argues difficulty in assembling the large amount of capital – but make no mistake, there are and will continue to be capital expenditures made for seniors facilities, recreation facilities , schools, etc. throughout this municipality and elsewhere in the province. Currently some $4,000,000 is slated for 2 all weather soccer fields to be built on the site of what was once Gordon Bell School (built, incidentally, long after ESDH, and since torn down). Ground was just turned by Minister Karen Casey for a new P-12 school in Tatamagouche, and she commented “I commend the residents of Tatamagouche for recognizing that combining the students into one new modern facility was good programming for the students, and it was also a better option than putting millions of dollars into old buildings”.
The School Board and the Province have just authorized the expenditure of $20,000,000 for a new high school in Eastern Passage, despite the fact that it will pull approximately 50% of the students out Cole Harbour High School, an excellent facility. That same has NOT put ESDH on their wish list, despite the fact that the water supply must be trucked in, the shared septic is a source of pollution in Petpeswick inlet, and asbestos has just been discovered, used as pipe wrap in the lines supplying heat to the facility.
You can be sure of one thing, if you listen to those opposed, there will be no new school, and you will have to put up with the old, inadequate, asbestos riddled ESDH, there will be no new fitness facilty in Musquodoboit Harbour, or anywhere else, there will be a seniors home isolated from the communities,and Musquodoboit Harbour and east will be unattractive destinations for new young families and business, because of the absence of such amenities in the community. Everyone from Lake Echo to Ship Harbour will lose out.
Mr. Bell says we should abandon the campus vision, claiming there can never be support from Musquodoboit Harbour and east. Mr. Bell is not listening; the CCVA in fact has active, engaged, members from Musquodoboit Harbour, and east, and west. Our small group meetings were inclusive of all areas, and in all areas, found abundant support.
The glaring difference between the thinking of those opposing the campus, and the CCVA is the idea of what constitutes a community. For the small, well meaning group of individuals opposing the campus, a 'community' seems to be Musquodoboit Harbour and its surrounds, but only as far as Gaetz Brook. (And incidentally, the SAC of Gaetz Brook Junior high fully supports the campus).
When Mr. Bell returns to Nova Scotia next summer, I would ask him, and the rest of the naysayers, to explore a different view of what is ' community'. Start with a drive to the top of Harbour Ridge Golf; look east, west, north and south and see a portion of the community, including beautiful Martinique Beach; that is part of our community. Then drive 20 minutes west, to the top of range road in Grand Desert; gaze all the way past Martinique and Bayer's Islands to Jeddore Rock and Pleasant Point. That is our community. Watch the surfers on Lawrencetown Beach. Stop at the Acadian Museum, boat or paddle up Porter's Lake, tie up for a swim in the clear water at Devil's Bed, talk to the fishermen at the government wharf in East Chezzetcook; hop on a bike and ride along the old rail line, soon to provide a complete, safe, route all the way back to Musquodoboit Harbour, and then up the river. But don't stop there; visit the railway museum, and head east, to the Fisherman's Life Museum in Jeddore, and then on to Lake Charlotte, where you can drop in a canoe or kayak and explore that beautiful Lake. Then roll on to Memory Lane and Clam Harbour Beach. Continue the loop up through Lower Ship Harbour, back up to the number 7. This is our community; the community of everyone from from newborns to centenarians, who deserve and will benefit from a campus facility.
Envision, if you will, students crossing a campus to do volunteer service or complete a social studies project, with the community’s elders in a senior's facility; those elders sharing their wisdom and memories, passing on the culture of our unique region. Envision those same seniors, perhaps no longer driving, but certainly ambulatory, strolling or in a wheelchair across a campus pathway to attend a game or performance at the school, using the fitness facility, and stopping in a cafe, shared with those students and the rest of the “community”.
Envision the old ESDH building converted to some 20-30 apartment units, meeting some of the housing crisis for so many in our community. (And there is significant funding available for any developer who takes on such a project).
That is my vision, and I believe, is the vision of the CCVA.
One of the last comments at the October 28 meeting said it all. “I will not say where I am from; that doesn't matter. This campus is good for all of us.”.