Talks of closing New Brigden School

While no official decisions have been made yet, the Prairie Rose Public Schools board is weighing all of the options when it comes to New Brigden School.

At a special meeting held on May 5, Trustee Lois Bedwell presented a motion in support of delaying the procedure for the closure of the K-5 school until the fall.

The board had initially brought forward the notice of motion on April 13, 2021, with a community consultation meeting planned for May 13, 2021.

But since pandemic regulations have come into place and the board felt more time was needed for information to be gathered, the community of New Bridgen will be able to share their thoughts on August 31 instead.

This will also be dependent on COVID-19 conditions whether it will be in person or online.

It was noted that it has been an overwhelming year due to the pandemic, so delaying the process would help alleviate some of the added pressures on families and Prairie Rose staff.

“We’ve extended the timeline of course because there is a lot of information to gather and there will be more information to come. And to give the community adequate time to respond to the proposal as we have done in the past,” said Board Chair Stuart Angle.

The board unanimously voted to extend school operations during the 2021-2022 year as well, suggesting it would be beneficial for parents, students, staff and the community to wait until COVID-19 public health restrictions are eased or lifted.

“We are gathering information and the community is going to get us more information and I know they are going to come up with an alternative proposal so we will hear that and weigh it all out and somehow we will manage to hopefully do what’s best for students,” concluded Angle.

The computer lab portable will be closed off and shut down for next school year but all necessary maintenance, to ensure the school is safe for staff and students, will be completed for the school to be operational by then.

A feasibility study was conducted four years ago which the discussions now taking place are a followup to as to how things have progressed.

An in-depth information package for this round of topics was constructed to demonstrate how the possible closure would work, the numbers associated, financial impacts, bussing impacts, potential uses for the school and equipment and so forth.

The core infrastructure was built in the 19050s with some portables, trailer-like additions, added on a decade later.

Angle shared with the ECA Review that these areas, especially the portables are dilapidated from wear and tear which are now in need of major repairs or to be torn down.

“Time waits for nobody,” he said. “When you are dealing with equipment and age from that era then it gets difficult and very expensive to replace.”

An estimated deficit is expected over the next five years for the local school in terms of instructional operation, maintenance and transportation.

Capital maintenance costs come to a total of $463,748 which includes projects like exterior siding replacement, septic tank replacement, furnace replacements in seven classrooms, boiler replacement, ventilation, insulation and electrical issues.

There are no additional capital costs anticipated at Oyen Public School as a result of the increase in student enrollment.

The attendance area boundaries for New Brigden school students fall into the boundaries for Oyen Public School for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5.

The division has estimated the amount of students averaging 25 students per year enrolled at New Brigden if they were to carry on as is.

If these students were transferred to Oyen their student enrollment numbers would increase to above the 100 threshold at 111 (if all  New Brigden students go to Oyen Public School).

If 100 per cent of students went into Oyen Public, the certified staffing would increase by $17,538. There would not be any change to support staff allocations.

Busing

There are currently four buses operating in the New Brigden school area where two travel to Oyen to deliver to Oyen Public and South Central High School while the other two buses travel to New Brigden. 

One of these buses meets an Oyen bus to transfer students and has the furthest pickup from the school at 94 km.

Bus times averaged an hour with some being as long as an hour and 10 minutes one-way.

If the school were to close, the division would condense the four routes into three travelling to Oyen.

For 2021-2022 school year, 17 out of 23 students live in Christ the Redeemer’s School Division attendance boundary and would therefore be eligible for transportation to Assumption School in Oyen as well.

As for Prairie Rose’s long-term plans, Oyen Public School and South Central High School has been listed as one of its top four priorities with talks of combining the two schools into one modernized education centre for an estimated cost of $13,959,000.

“With both buildings under-utilized and in need of costly upgrades, combining all grades into one modern facility is the fiscally responsible decision to pursue,’ stated the report. 

“A community consultation held by Prairie Rose executive staff has indicated the positive results of this restructuring extends past the financial benefits, resulting in the educational and community benefits as well.”

No school would be constructed unless provincial funding and community support are given.

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

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