NANAIMO — Money has been freed up to expand one north Nanaimo elementary school, while another nearby school will shut down.
Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools board chair Steve Rae said that revelation became clear on Tuesday night when the Ministry of Education (MOE) approved $1.3 million to help pay for adding a new wing to Frank J. Ney Elementary.
He said the board plans to close Rutherford Elementary in June 2018, pointing out that the Frank Ney expansion is expected to be ready to go by September of that year.
“We're happy and we're surprised,” said Rae when reached by NanaimoNewsNOW Thursday. “The Ministry has stated that they're not handing out monies other than seismic (earthquake reinforcement) and district's with huge growing populations.”
The District estimates the cost of adding eight additional classrooms at Frank Ney, to hold about 200 students, at $5 million. Conversely, Rae notes upgrading Rutherford, which features a need for major seismic upgrades, would cost about $18 million. Frank Ney is 17-years-old, while Rutherford opened 53 years ago.
Enrollment numbers presented by SD 68 in November showed there are 203 students attending Rutherford School this year. It has room for 317. Frank Ney School has 237 students in a facility that can hold 205.
Rae said closing schools isn't easy, noting it does cause a disruption to parents, students and staff.
“We understand the pain of some, but we believe we're on the right track,” he said. “Nobody likes to close schools, but when we had to come down to making a choice of spending $18 million over a period of time or $5 million, seems like an easy decision,” Rae said.
Rae said the pain of closing Rutherford is softened by the fact there are three other elementary schools (McGirr, Randerson Ridge & Frank Ney) within roughly two kilometers. He figures most Rutherford students will end up going to Frank Ney.
Several members of the Rutherford Open and Thriving group took to Facebook to offer their displeasure.
“I am upset but not surprised. This whole process has been a "game" between the School District staff, School Board members (not all but most) and the MOE staff,” said Maureen Shakespeare. “Honesty and respect have not been shown to parents and children at Rutherford,” she added.
School District 68 Supt. John Blain said closing Rutherford school won't leave anybody out of a job.
“Because the jobs are still there and the students are there, it's just that they're moving their sites.”
Rae wants to make it clear that the SD 68 board has no plans to sell the Rutherford Elementary site.
“Because we want to keep it, because we do believe some time down the road it's a valuable piece of property to have,” he said. “We can't afford it right now.”
A working group will soon be established to oversee transition implications for closing Rutherford and expanding Frank Ney. That includes impacts on student support services and staff.
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