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Education minister remains committed to opening new Springhill elementary by September 2021

Junction Road Elementary in Springhill
Junction Road Elementary in Springhill is one of two schools that will be replaced with a new elementary school for the community. Education Minister Zach Churchill says the new school will still be ready for opening in September 2021 despite challenges presented by preferred site. File

Preferred site next to community centre unsuitable for ‘geological reasons’

SPRINGHILL, N.S. —

Despite some challenges with the preferred site, Springhill should still have a new elementary school by September 2021.

Speaking with the Amherst News on Oct. 7, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Zach Churchill remains committed to meeting the timeline that was promised when the school was announced during the 2018 byelection to replace former PC leader Jamie Baillie.

“There can always be construction and weather-related delays, and obviously there has been a bit of delay because of the geology in the community, but we don’t believe we’re off time yet,” the minister said. “We’re very confident, particularly if the community likes the design of another new school, that we can meet our timeline on this.”

In April 2018, Churchill announced Springhill would be one of 13 communities to get a new school or major school renovation over a five-year period. The new school in Springhill will replace two aging buildings in West End-Memorial and Junction Road elementary schools.

Both schools have been a source of frustration for parents, students and staff because of leaking roofs and other building issues.

Churchill said the site selection process included looking at the locations of the two existing schools, but they are both too small for a modern school while the Municipality of Cumberland’s preferred site, next to the Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre, has run into some issues related to their presence to underground mine workings.

“We did an engineering study on that site, but that came back with some geological issues that prevented us from building a school of that size there,” Churchill said.

The minister said the department is working with the school advisory council and the municipality and had staff in the community as recently as Oct. 4 to meet with the chair of the school advisory council to look at other potential sites.

Churchill said as many as seven other locations are being considered. That list will be narrowed to two and then it will be opened up for community comment. Then it will go to the design phase, tenders and construction.

He said in some areas, communities have looked at other new schools nearby as examples of what could be build there. For Springhill, he said, that could mean looking at the new elementary school in Bible Hill. If that design is acceptable to Springhill, it could speed the process up.

He said a similar process was used in Wedgeport in his riding with the community looking at the new elementary school in Yarmouth and accepting its design for their school.

“Hopefully the process will move fairly quickly so we can present a couple of options to the community for feedback and choose the one we all think is the best and proceed to the next phase of design, tender and construction,” Churchill said.

Cumberland South MLA Tory Rushton said he has frequent conversations with Churchill and he believes the minister when he says the project is not delayed.

“The minister and I have met regularly on this school. The property that looked like it was going to work, the minister has told me there are mine workings underneath that might make the property unsafe for a new school,” Rushton said. “At the end of the day he’s not going to build a school on a property that’s unsafe.”

Rushton said he has met with the municipality’s two Springhill representatives Maryanne Jackson and Doug Williams and everyone is on the same page.

“We’re all putting our heads together to come up with a solution and we’re willing to work with Education and TIR on this. At the end of the day, the minister is committed to keeping that date in 2021 and we’re willing to work with the minister to make it happen.”

Rushton said some parents have taken their children to some of the new schools in the area, including Bible Hill and the opinions have been favourable. He believes if a similar school is built in Springhill it could knock several months off the wait.

“If that school is liked by the community it would cut 10 months off the process,” he said. “We could actually fit and scale that school to size and have it open in September 2021.”

Rushton said a new school has been promised since the by-election and he’s not willing to make it an issue during the next provincial election. He is pleased the minister is onboard and has been extremely co-operative with himself and the community.

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