© Christopher Gooding
Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil (left) and Cumberland South Liberal candidate Kenny John Jackson toured Springhill High School Thursday, giving the Liberal leader insight into the Department of Education's decision to scrap a gym expansion in favour of renovations.
SPRINGHILL – Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil paid a visit to Springhill High to see first hand what the recent decision to cut an expansion of the school’s gymnasium after tenders for the project came in over budget could look like.
Trying to stay on the sideline Thursday as students played basketball, McNeil often found himself stepping on to the court while listening to staff about the proposed expansion and present needs of the gymnasium. The leader added his voice of support for the expansion project last week and after seeing the gymnasium first-hand, his opinion hasn’t changed.
“When I look at it, this is a perfect building to be expanding that gym to meet not only the needs of the students body but the community,” McNeil said.
Money for the $1.9 million expansion was earmarked but when tenders came in over budget the Nova Scotia Treasury Board instructed the school’s steering committee to plan for a renovation instead. A member with the Dept. of Education communications department later added previous renovations at the school were also over budget. Education Minister Ramona Jennex has said the project is $1 million over budget, bringing the cost up to $2.9 million while Cumberland MLA and leader of the Progressive Conservatives Jamie Baillie said the tender for the expansion was $300,000 over budget with $100,000 already spent on the design phase of the project.
McNeil and the Liberals support the project moving forward and argued both students and the community benefit from the project. A construction project at the town’s community centre to include a gymnasium was put on hold when the school renovations and gymnasium expansion as announced several years ago.
"Every small town can’t have two gymnasiums so let’s make the one in the school do, not only the purpose for the students, but for the community so that when it’s open in the evenings it can be part of our community fabric.” Stephen McNeil, leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals
“I think to cut a project short, that is not meeting the needs of the student population and community, simply based on the budget is very short sighted,” McNeil said. “Look at the budget. Can we do it over multi-year budgets… can we commit part of the money this year, part of the money next year to do the job right and I think that’s what the government has to be looking at.”
The proposed gym expansion at Springhill High was supposed to accommodate students and parents. The current size and situation only allows for minimal seating and insufficient storage. Both the education minister and the department say the renovations will allow for more seating but McNeil said in the best interests of the community, the plan to expand should go forward.
“I’m a big believer, quite frankly, of community schools and that means these schools become community assets and the community becomes a driving force behind them, they work with them. Every small town can’t have two gymnasiums so let’s make the one in the school do, not only the purpose for the students, but for the community so that when it’s open in the evenings it can be part of our community fabric.”