New Tillsonburg public elementary school delayed

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Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) recently announced status quo would remain in Tillsonburg for its elementary schools until September 2015.

Notices went home last week to let parents know Rolph Street Public School and Maple Lane Public School will stay open one full school year beyond their proposed closing dates in June 2014. The decision was reached at the board level in January.

"Any recommendation the board approves on this type of ARC process is always contingent on Ministry approval of funding," said TVDSB executive officer Kevin Bushell, Facility Services and Capital Planning. "The school communities, the parents, the trustees, they are always told... 'to pull this off we have to have the funding.'"

An Accommodation Review Committee was initially announced for Tillsonburg in November 2011 and it started in February 2012. After multiple ARC meetings, recommendations from the senior administration, supported by the local ARC committee, were approved by the board in March 2013.

A portion of that recommendation included Maple Lane and Rolph Street closing, a new $17 million school built on the west side of Tillsonburg (on land originally purchased by the old Oxford County Board of Education), and renovations to allow consolidation of students into JK-8 at Annandale, South Ridge and the new school.

The new business model was completed on schedule, said Bushell.

"In the past the ministry has always asked that business cases be submitted by the end of May in each year. That's why we tried to get it wrapped up early, get our recommendations done, get our designs done, to submit our business cases. Last year they deferred the submission of business cases... so even though we were ready to go, we couldn't submit our business cases until October."

Through discussion with the Ministry, they learned funding might be released in January 2014.

"If it was January, we would still have time to get the construction started. We would probably not have the new school done, but we would probably have South Ridge and Annandale done (in September 2014) – or close to being done – and then the new school, similar to what we did in Strathroy, would open about this time of year (in 2015)."

The Ministry of Education recently announced funding would not be released until March.

"That just put it too late for us to try to get the stuff built and organize the schools," said Bushell, noting it would have pushed the opening of a new school into May.

"So we decided to defer the closing of Maple Lane and Rolph Street and the reorganization of Tillsonburg until June 2015, which is a one-year delay..."

The Tillsonburg project was TVDSB's No. 1 priority in its latest capital funding submissions. Bushell is optimistic the ministry will approve their business cases, and is still optimistic funding will be announced in March. If that's the case, construction will start as soon as they get funds.

The new school, however, will not open earlier than September 2015.

"There's no point reorganizing the kids for just two months of classes," he said. "And the whole staffing process is quite complicated.

"We can't tender the project until the money's here. By the time we tender and get started – it takes about a year to build a new school – and because of the (winter) conditions, it might be even longer before we can get into the ground this year – it will be April or May."

Bushell said they would like to move forward with work at Annandale School.

"We are going to go ahead and do some renovations at Annandale because we already have the money for that. That was full-day Kindergarten money. So we're going to do some renovations at Annandale this year to get them started.

"Everything will be status quo in Tillsonburg other than – it's hopeful – there will construction going on at the new school, South Ridge, and Annandale. And we'll have it all ready for the fall of 2015.

"I'm optimistic – all the signs point that we will be receiving the funding," said Bushell. "It's just that it's been delayed in the release of it. Until we get the money, we can't start and we're in a holding pattern waiting for it."

chris.abbott@sunmedia.ca

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