New school on its way to Caledonia

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

CALEDONIA—The Ontario government has allocated $20.4 million toward the construction of a new educational facility to be built in the Avalon subdivision in Caledonia, which will create 746 new student spaces in the expanding community. The project is part of $600 million in provincial funding aimed at creating new school and daycare spaces.

The funding designates $12.3 million to the Grand Erie District School Board (GEDSB), with the remaining $8.1 million going to the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board (BHNCDSB). The new facility will house two schools who will share common spaces including the gym, library, and cafeteria.

“A brand-new school and childcare facility in Caledonia will help meet the needs of students and earliest learners in that area. We are grateful to the Minister and the Ministry of Education for this significant investment,” said Rick Petrella, Chair of the BHNCDSB.

“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made safer schools a priority, which is why we continue to invest in modern and accessible learning spaces with improved ventilation,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “This investment is part of our multiyear plan to build, expand, and update schools and childcare spaces across our province. It will leave a lasting legacy that benefits working families for years to come.”

The funding was announced by MPP Toby Barrett, who had previously submitted a petition to the Ministry of Education regarding the need for the new school: “The new joint Caledonia elementary school and Caledonia Catholic elementary school is great news for our community. I offer a big thank you to Minister Lecce, and to those who signed my petition.”

“Our Caledonia schools have been feeling growth pressures,” said JoAnna Roberto, Director of Education, GEDSB. “This new school gives us new opportunities to partner with staff, students, and communities to continue to build a culture of learning, wellbeing, and belonging in Grand Erie. I’m looking forward to seeing this project develop, and I know our families and students will love it.”

Mike McDonald, Director of Education & Secretary for BHNCDSB, commented on the severity of local school overcrowding in recent years: “In the past five years, we have seen a 30% increase in enrollment at both of our Catholic schools in Caledonia. Both St. Patrick’s and Notre Dame are approaching or exceeding their capacity. This trend is only continuing with the ongoing residential development in Caledonia. Our projections show that BHNCDSB is anticipating 500 or more students in the coming years.“

Ward 3 Councillor Dan Lawrence illustrated how dire the need for extra space is. The student population at St. Patrick’s Elementary School went from 141 students in 2018 to 258 in 2021: “In three years that school in itself has almost doubled.”

Caledonia Centennial currently has 443 students enrolled, greatly exceeding the building capacity of 366. GEDSB has built eight portables, but are at critical capacity since additional portables would exceed hydro capacity for the site. GEDSB has 1,045 elementary students in Caledonia, and predicted that number will hit 1,457 by 2024-25.

According to Lawrence, the Ministry of Education acts on current numbers, not projections, which can create planning challenges with the amount of development locally.

“History has a funny way of repeating itself. When McKinnon Park Secondary School was built in the early 90s, it was at capacity immediately,” said Lawrence, who said that while the new school is welcome news, more new schools will be needed. “This school will be filled immediately, no doubt, and we will need more schooling absolutely.”

He added, “Hagersville is about to explode like Caledonia has in the last few years. The need for more educational institutions for our greatest resource, our children, is needed beyond belief.”

Despite the ongoing need, Lawrence said they’re “jumping up and down right now” for the upcoming school, particularly since GEDSB was previously denied before joining with the Catholic board.

Dave Smouter, Manager of Communications and Community Relations of GEDSB,  noted this will be the third joint school between the boards: “Our experience working together has been positive. Joint use creates more opportunities for students, staff, and families to experience and interact with a greater diversity of communities and build community relationships. Not only are there definite cost savings, there are also opportunities for teachers to collaborate on best practices and approaches and work together – professional networking with a goal to enhance education and better meet the needs of the community.”

According to McDonald, joint-use schools provide opportunities to increase the efficiency of construction and operations: “Additionally, when land is scarce and costly, joint-use arrangements can allow multiple boards to leverage limited available sites while reducing land acquisition costs. They also provide increased program capacity and speciality spaces, providing better value to construction.”

McDonald added that while the boards will operate separately within the facility, they will benefit from sharing support staff, such as maintenance and library staff.

While a date for construction has yet to be announced, Lawrence is hopeful that with a provincial election coming up next year, timelines will come out “sooner than later.” He believes the joint-school approach will become more and more prevalent going forward: “I firmly believe it’s the way to go in the future because you utilize one land mass and your fixed costs are under one roof.”

Greg Anderon, Chair of the GEDSB summed up the project: “This is a significant infrastructure investment, but more importantly, an investment in the future of children.”