Published on April 08, 2013
The old Yarmouth high school on Parade Street. One of what will eventually be many empty schools in Yarmouth. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on September 04, 2013
School board member Dolores Atwood feels the board shouldn't be paying $200,000 a year in rent for its offices when there are empty school buildings that could house the board's offices. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on September 04, 2013
School board member Elizabeth Acker wants to see the Tri-County Regional School Board develop a long-term strategic plan that examines the direction the board is headed in over the next five to 10 years. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Published on April 29, 2010
The Tri-County Regional School Board's offices are located on Water Street. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
Given that the Tri-County Regional School Board pays $200,000 a year in rent at its Water Street location in Yarmouth, some board members would like to see the board begin to examine the feasibility of eventually relocating the board’s offices into an empty school building.
But a motion to include this as a goal to be carried out in the board’s 2013-14 business plan was defeated by a 5-5 tie vote at the board’s Sept. 3 meeting. Instead, some other board members said rather than including this as an item in the business plan, which is a document that identifies more immediate or short-term goals and priorities, they’d rather see the board draft a long-term strategic plan that goes beyond just examining what to do with excess school buildings in the future. They would like to see a comprehensive document that maps out the direction the board sees itself heading in over the next five to 10 years when it comes to school buildings, student transportation, board administration, school boundaries, etc.
At the board’s Sept. 3 meeting, board member Ron Hines had raised the issue of exploring the feasibility of relocating the board offices into an excess school building in the town of Yarmouth. Over the years the idea has been mentioned in passing, but there’s been no real analysis or serious discussion about it.
“I want the discussion to start,” Hines said. “I want to start looking at these things.”
He felt strongly it should be included in the board's 2013-14 business plan.
While the board has turned the vacant Yarmouth junior high building on Parade Street back over to the province – the province owns this building, which was once a vocational school – the old high school on Parade Street sits empty, and years down the road the Central and South Centennial schools will be empty too when those elementary schools close. It's not yet been determined where a replacement school will be for those schools.
If the school board doesn’t use the empty buildings they will be turned over to the town, whether the town needs them or not.
There are four years remaining in the lease the board pays to rent space to house its offices and administrative and department staff at 79 Water Street in Yarmouth. This lease sees the board paying $25,000 less in rent per year than it did in the last lease agreement.
The school board moved into the building, which was built by the Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission, in 2006. Prior to this board offices and staff were spread between the P.A. Best Centre on Parade Street and the old Milton elementary school.
Hines is not alone in feeling that the board should examine an alternative to its existing location. Board member Dolores Atwood thinks the rent the board pays is excessive and even if an empty school needed to be renovated to house the board offices, she doubts the cost would be close to what the board pays in rent, nor would it be an ongoing cost.
Board member Andy Baxter, who had voted in favour of Hines’ motion, said he agreed that the board has to start somewhere when it comes to looking at the future of these empty school buildings.
The school board’s director of operators, Steve Stoddard, said exploring the feasibility of retrofitting a school building to house the school board offices would likely require hiring consultants to examine what the cost would be. He was the one who also noted the board has four years remaining in its lease agreement.
School board member Elizabeth Acker said one thing that concerns her about keeping a school available for use years from now is the school board would be required to continue to spend money to maintain that empty school building, which would add to the board’s annual costs. At past board's meetings it's been suggested the cost could be around $60,000 a year. The cost depends on numerous factors including heat, fuel, electricity and insurance.
Still, Acker thinks the board needs to have a long-term plan in place. Acker had previously spoken to the board members about a comprehension document the Cape Breton Regional School Board has drawn up that examines the direction and future for that school board over the next 10 to 15 years. She and board vice-chair Faye Haley said they feel strongly that this board needs to do the same. The process of drawing up a document would, they noted, involve public consultation. Haley also said the board should include reports that education consultant Jim Gunn has prepared for the board in the past, although, she noted, the information would have to be updated.
At the board’s Tuesday meeting a motion made by Acker was approved to have board staff develop a timeline to begin a five-to-10-year strategic plan. Acker would like to see a report on this come back to the board, perhaps by November.
The motion was not approved unanimously. Three board members who had voted earlier in the evening in favour of Hines’ motion pertaining to the 2013-14 business plan voted against this second motion.