Grey-Bruce Catholic schools are bursting with students and so the province has agreed to replace St. Mary’s in Owen Sound with a new Grade 9-12 high school, rather than build an addition onto it.
An extra $16.3 million for the school was announced Friday by Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, on top of almost $20 million originally announced for an addition in 2020. The new school should be built in three or four years, said board business superintendent Alecia Lantz in an interview Saturday.
“We’re so pleased and so excited with this amazing news,” Lantz said. The project cost does not include the cost of acquiring a new site but there’s a different provincial funding opportunity for that, she said.
But the school will be built in Owen Sound at a site yet to be determined.
“Our Catholic high school in Owen Sound has been experiencing overcrowding for many years,” board chair Lori DiCastri said in a news release, “and we look forward to opening the doors to a new and innovative space that is right-sized for our staff and students.”
St. Mary’s is supposed to accommodate 630 students. It has more than 1,000 enrolled though, and the new school’s capacity will be 1,012 students.
St. Mary’s has been running out of room for several years. In 2016, the province denied the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School’s funding request to expand. At that time it was only funding consolidated schools. The board preferred not to build a Grade 7-12 school.
But Lantz said discussions with the ministry have remained supportive over the past seven years. She said building a new Grade 9-12 school is “the most fiscally responsible decision” given its schools are so full and the St. Mary’s building will continue to be used once the new school is built.
A few years ago, Grade 3’s at St. Basil’s were moved to Notre Dame to deal with overcrowding. Notre Dame, a Grade 3 to 8 French immersion school, is at 160 per cent of capacity, with seven portable classrooms in use.
Some pressure could be relieved by shifting some of that school’s students to St. Mary’s after the new school is built, Lantz said.
St. Mary’s has nine portables and three more will be added this summer. St. Basil’s, a Grade K-2 school now, is at 90 per cent capacity and has two portables.
Lantz estimated 80 per cent of the board’s schools are at 100 per cent capacity or more.
Part of the demand is based on demographic trends and part is an appreciation for a Catholic education, Lantz said, including some innovative programming. She credited staff as well.
The board’s other high school, Walkerton’s Sacred Heart High School, is at capacity, Lantz said.
The board will begin consultations with the school community on the best use of space for all three Owen Sound schools on May 12 at St. Mary’s, at a time to be announced. It’s sone of many opportunities to gather feedback, Lantz said. A site selection committee will be struck now too.
In the years since 2007, when the 1891 wing of St. Mary’s was declared prohibitive to repair and boarded up, the Catholic board demolished the old wing and built a $3.7 million, two-storey, 10-classroom addition to St. Mary’s.
Originally, the plan was to build another addition with close to $20 million from the province, announced in October 2020. Then the board was looking at moving Grades 7 and 8 from Notre Dame to an expanded St. Mary’s. There was exploration of possibly expanding into adjacent former Ministry of Transportation property.
But the board applied for more money for a new school in February, in response to a funding call priority projects.
The ministry recognized the need for this school, Lantz said. “There’s a number of selection criteria that the ministry reviews and they felt that we had a good case to be able to move forward with this building,” Lantz said.
The news release late Friday afternoon said the project is part of a province-wide investment of nearly $500 million for new school and childcare spaces.
The overall investment will support the creation of 37 school-related projects which include 23 childcare centres. This funding will add nearly 15,700 new student spaces and 1,502 licensed childcare spaces at schools across Ontario, the release said.
“We believe that students deserve to learn in-person in state-of-the-art facilities that are Internet connected, accessible, with modern ventilation systems,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce in the release, “which is why our government is delivering a major investment that accelerates construction to get it done for parents, students, and communities.”