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New Springhill elementary school pushed back two years?

Junction Road Elementary in Springhill
Junction Road Elementary in Springhill - Christopher Gooding

Department says school could still be complete by 2021

SPRINGHILL, N.S. —

Springhill elementary school students may have to wait longer for a new school.

While Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Zach Churchill told the Amherst News in October that the school is still expected to be ready for September 2021, the 2019 School Capital Plan released Thursday has moved the completion date back to the 2023-24 school year.

It has Cumberland South MLA Tory Rushton questioning what happened.

“Families in Springhill deserve a straight answer from this government,” Rushton said in a news release. “It isn’t fair for the Liberals to continue using the project as a political football.”

During the 2018 by-election that saw Rushton replace former PC leader and Cumberland South MLA Jamie Baillie, the provincial Liberal government ended years of speculation and announced a new elementary school would be built to replace two aging facilities in Junction Road Elementary and West End-Memorial Elementary.

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

The project hit a bit of a snag earlier this year when it was determined the preferred site, next to the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre, had to be discarded due to concerns over former mine workings underneath.

Despite this, the minister said the new school should be ready by September 2021.

“There can always be construction and weather-related delays, and obviously there has been a bit of a delay because of the geology in the community, but we don’t believe we’re off time yet,” the minister told the newspaper on Oct. 7. “We’re very confident, particularly if the community likes the design of another new school, we can meet the timeline on this.”

JoAnn Alberstat from Education and Early Childhood Development said the goal is still to have the school competed by September 2021.

“As the minister previously stated, we are still targeting a September 2021 opening for Springhill Elementary,” Alberstat said in an email to the Amherst News. “The completion target date in the capital plan shows, under regular timelines, how long a project should take to complete. “Although Springhill elementary shows a date of 2023-2024, we are working to have it ready to welcome students in September 2021. We anticipated breaking ground by now, but two sites were not suitable due to undermining. Conversations are underway with the community to adopt a school design from a school that was previously built. This will help to speed up the design process so we can begin construction sooner.”

The minister said last month that up to seven other sites were being considered, although the locations of the existing school were deemed too small.

He said the list of sites will be narrowed two and then the project would move the design phase, tenders and construction.

Rushton said there has been no indication from the minister or the department of any delays and during Question Period on Oct. 3 the minister did not warn of a potential two-year delay but said the community would be part of the process.

“If the opening of the school has been pushed back two years, the Minister owes it to the families in the area to be transparent about when and where the school will be built,” Rushton concluded. “If the school will open in 2021 as scheduled, the Minister should clear up the confusion.”

The 2019 plan includes a new high school, renovations to make room for skilled trade centres and a new building for an adult high school. Under the plan, there will be 12 projects in 11 communities over the next five years with a total investment of $85 million.

The new high school announced in the plan is in Bedford, while North Nova Education Centre, Ecole Par-en-Bas in Tusket, Liverpool Regional High, East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy and Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy in Inverness are receiving skilled trades facilities.

A building will be purchased and renovated for the alternative high school at West Hants Education Centre and the Windsor Adult High School. The schools currently share leasedspace in Windsor.

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