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BEHIND THE SCENES: King 'surprised' by Chippewa fence project

BayToday's Chris Dawson takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on BayToday's Chris Dawson, whose story 'King 'surprised' by Chippewa fence project' was published on Nov. 17.

Here is the original story if you need to catch up:

Mark King, the chair of the board of directors for the Nipissing District Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) says he was caught off guard when he found out about a plan to build a fence around Chippewa Secondary School as a way to protect the school and its students from trespassers.

The Near North District School Board has connected these intrusions on school property directly to the situation of the Low Barrier Shelter located across Chippewa Street West from the secondary school in the north end of the city. 

"To be honest with you. I was surprised when I read that," admitted King, who is also a North Bay city councillor. 

"You know, at this week's council meeting I did talk with other councillors who were actually surprised by that too."

On Tuesday night the Near North District School Board voted in favour of putting up a fence at a price tag of $611,000. 

NNDSB officials claim the fence project has been designed to separate the city’s homeless and public drug users from the students.

See related: On Guard: School Board green lights Chippewa fencing

King wonders if the project is two-fold. "Are they trying to keep students from entering the bush off of school property I mean, a fence can work both ways."

"And I think the other issue that's, that's quite prevalent is that trail system that runs along the west side of Chippewa school has been a problem for a long period of time, and certainly impacted the other schools that are actually just up the street from Chippewa school so for me, that may be part of the reason to stop that transient traffic from entering the school yard from the bush."

King says the fence project should not give the impression that there is a strained relationship between Chippewa and DNSSAB due to the Low Barrier Shelter. 

"We have had a tremendous working relationship with the principal at Chippewa, and we have that ongoing connection and senior staff have kept that line of communication open so I am unaware of any problems,"  said King.

King also insists they have done everything possible from the DNSSAB perspective to facilitate security. King notes the process of moving some of the homeless from supportive transitional housing to non-supportive transitional housing. 

"This process provides an opportunity for people to get directly off the street," he said. 

Regardless, NNDSB Superintendent Gay Smylie noted that since the shelter moved to Chippewa Street in 2023 the site has continued to grow.

The board stated the area around the school has been littered with drug paraphernalia such as syringes, and sometimes shelter patrons will hang out near the school’s entrances to avoid the weather while waiting for the shelter to open. 

The fence project will be erected in two parts. The first will cover the track and field area. The second will enclose the school, running along Chippewa Street West and parallel to High Street.

With files from David Briggs