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Thunder Bay dealing with school closures too

Lakehead District School Board decides to close three schools

THUNDER BAY -- Three south side public schools will close by 2018 while the Lakehead District School Board will go back to the drawing board on deciding the fate of five north side schools. 

Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate and Vocational Institute will close at the end of the current school year and its students will move to Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute for the 2017-2018 year.

Agnew H. Johnston and Edgewater Park public schools will close in June of 2018 and pending Ministry of Education funding approval, an elementary school we be constructed on the Churchill property.

The board voted unanimously to support its administration's south side consolidation plan.   

"We're quite confident this is going to happen," said board chairwoman Deborah Massaro. 

"We have recently received funding for the Hyde Park school renovation from the ministry and we're confident we'll be able to get a new build for the south side because the south side hasn't had any new builds for so many years. We hope that's going to happen."

Administration did not experience the same confidence of its board when it came to the north side, however. 

Board trustees voted seven to one against a recommendation to move Superior Collegiate Vocational Institute students to Hammarskjold High School in 2017.

Under the plan, St. James, C.D. Howe and Vance Chapman Public Schools would have all closed and its students would have been relocated to a renovated Superior in September 2018. 

Trustees were critical of a wide array of the plan's elements from the provincially-mandated review process in general to Superior having been built for older children.  

"I think we have to be very careful when we start giving away neighbourhood schools. It sounds great to have some big, fancy school but we've done that in the past and we've lost because of it at times," said Trustee Ron Oikonen. 

"I'm particularly concerned about St. James. That's the only inner-city school on the north side. It's still a bright school. There are a lot of community groups and they're helping the clientele there. If we send them to a great big school, I think some of them wouldn't be happy."  

Trustee Marg Arnone spoke passionately as the policy's lone supporter. She praised the Hammarskjold property as having recreational space, room to expand and while it's close to Red River Road businesses, it's also isolated from the thoroughfare and its neighbours.  

"To me, it's a smart thing to do. After all, they're going to spend eight, nine, 10 years there," Arnone said.  

Why shouldn't they have the best when they're growing up? Why shouldn't someone from St. James come from a 100-year-old school and experience that? I think it's just the right thing to do." 

Superior students and their parents celebrated what they saw as saving their school, which was constructed in 2009 to accommodate Port Arthur Collegiate Institute (PACI) and Hillcrest Collegiate Vocational Institute at a cost of $32 million.  

"I truly believe Superior should stay open because it was built to be a high school," said Superior Grade 10 student Madilyn Rappard. 

"It kind of made no sense to shut down after just a few years of being open."