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EDITORIAL: Springhill’s wait for a new school has been long enough

It’s a promise parents of students at Springhill’s two elementary schools have heard far too many times to take seriously and unless the provincial government delivers on Education Minister Zach Churchill’s latest pledge any credibility it has in the community will be seriously compromised.

Prior to last year’s provincial by-election in Cumberland South, Churchill announced Springhill would receive a new elementary school to replace both Junction Road and West End-Memorial Elementary schools – two aging facilities that have outlived their lifespans.

For many years the community has been told that help was on the way for the two schools. The former Chignecto-Central Regional School Board had a new school at, or near, the top of the priority list it submits to the province for new buildings. However, in what smacked of politics to Springhill and area residents, schools further down the list were announced and built while Springhill students were forced to go to classes in buildings that some felt were on the verge of being unusable.

Roofs leaked, there were concerns about whether there was asbestos in the materials used to build the schools decades ago. There were problems with the drinking water, deteriorating parking lots and playgrounds – and the list goes on.

Last April, it appeared as the government had finally listened when the new school was announced. There was a lot of celebration in the community, even if skeptics felt the provincial government was only promising the school to woo voters for its candidate and there was this fear after the election – when PC candidate Tory Rushton was elected to replace outgoing PC leader and MLA Jamie Baillie – the province would forget that commitment and the project would again slip down the priority list.

Recently, when the department’s updated capital plan was updated by Churchill there was much fanfare about a new high school in Bedford and planned updates to other schools in the province to create skilled trade centres. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, Springhill’s promised elementary school had dropped from the 2021 promise made by the minister to the 2023-24 school year – two (or three) years later.

The minister later reached out to the MLA and the Amherst News to renew his pledge the school is still on target for September 2021 – although he cautioned there are no guarantees complications can’t happen along the way. There have been issues with the site selection process due to geological concerns with old mine workings under Springhill. That’s understandable, but can (and will) be addressed in a timely fashion – we hope.

If the complication ends up being another election, or more excuses, the province should understand Springhill residents are going to graduate from being miffed to angry – not a bridge it wants to cross.

Students, staff and parents associated with both schools – and the community as a whole – are not going to accept anything less than a new school built as quickly, and efficiently, as possible. Putting this project on the shelf to build a school in an area that’s more politically sensitive is not an option. If a site isn’t soon selected, a tender awarded and spades in the ground in a timely fashion, more trust will be lost and the skepticism will only grow as the naysayers are proven correct.

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