A tale of two schools: ‘The public doesn’t support us closing full schools to create a business case to open another one.’

city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a three-year battle to save a couple of rural schools in Elgin, but in the end, it may have been a last-minute letter of clarification that sealed the deal.
Tuesday evening (Nov. 26) Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding a motion to shutter New Sarum and Springfield public schools next year.
The motion had initially been introduced in October by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock, with the support of fellow area trustee Bruce Smith.
After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school.
Several trustees had opposed Ruddock’s motion in the belief such a move could jeopardize the business case for the construction of a new school in Belmont.

Prior to Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting, a copy of a letter from Deputy Minister of Education Nancy Naylor to Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek was forwarded to the school board in an effort to clarify several outstanding points.
This included requirements of the province’s Capital Priorities Program which provides funding for capital projects that address the need for “new or expanded schools to address local accommodation pressures, replace schools in poor condition, consolidate underutilized schools, address the needs of under-served French-language rights holders, and creating child care spaces in schools.”
Springfield Public SchooljpgNaylor went on to stress, “school boards were to complete a business case template which included a requirement for the board to indicate the priority of each submission.”
Following the two motions to keep New Sarum and Springfield public schools open, trustees voted to make a new Belmont school and additions to Eagle Heights in London a top priority.
Prior to the New Sarum vote, Trustee Sean Hunt noted, “We have the opportunity to help build a school in Belmont that is much needed to support growth and replace schools . . . and keep our small schools which are strong and which have unanimous support for keeping those schools in the towns.
“We have the opportunity to do the right thing. We can either lament changes or be the change.”
Trustee Jake Skinner reminded members, “Here we have a school that’s almost full. It’s at 92 per cent. So, if we were wondering why this motion is before us . . . it’s because the public doesn’t support us closing full schools to create a business case to open another one.”
In defending her motion, Trustee Ruddock stressed, “We have a highly regarded member of government who is engaged and willing to fight for the people he represents. Minister Yurek has been very vocal in and of the support for a new Belmont school while keeping New Sarum and Springfield open.
“I truly believe Thames Valley has a greater chance of success in securing a school for Belmont if we rescind the closure of New Sarum and Springfield than if we do nothing and allow the closures to stand.”
In the lead-up to a vote on the Springfield motion Trustee Skinner reiterated, “these schools are more than just bricks and mortar, they are community anchors. It’s a place that brings the community together. It’s a place that provides identity.”

“I’m glad the motion changed so that we can keep the schools open and get a new Belmont school and let the school board deal with the southeast St. Thomas school.”

And Trustee Smith clarified to all in attendance, “We didn’t promise to save schools . . . what we wanted to do was bring it (the motion) back to the table to have people have another look at it.”
As to the importance of Naylor’s letter, Yurek noted “We’ve been under the understanding, with confirmation from the ministry, that school boards need to prioritize capital spending. And, somewhere, the staff at the school board announced that wasn’t necessary and that is what the trustees were going on.
“I had to track down the correct information for the staff of the school board in order to say yes, you have to rank your capital projects and it is very important to make Belmont number one.”
As for the status of a new southeast St. Thomas school, in an interview Thursday (Nov. 28) Yurek made it clear “the ministry denied that school back in 2017 until they (the board) does a pupil accommodation review to fill up empty seats in the other schools in St. Thomas. Part of Meagen’s push was to ensure that goes on so they can then go back to the ministry.”
Yurek continued, “I’m glad the motion changed so that we can keep the schools open and get a new Belmont school and let the school board deal with the southeast St. Thomas school.
“I hope the school board gets right to work on their business plan for Belmont school and gets it in ASAP with a capital ask and I will get to work with the ministry to provide the case for support for Belmont.”

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If you thought what was then the Timken Centre was a cash pit in the short time after it opened, the new $11 million police headquarters is giving the twin-pad arena a run for the money.
So far this year the new facility on CASO Crossing has required almost $40,000 in repairs and associated costs. This does not include work needed on the sinking floor.
The cost of remediating the floor issue in the northwest corner of the building is pegged at $132,000.
Remember, that figure was initially estimated to be $75,000.
St. Thomas Police HQThe issues include heat-related problems in the building, hinges failing on vanity doors in a locker room, a leaking conduit, a sewer back-up, basement flooding due to a failed sump pump, cracked countertops, a leak in the skylight in the fitness room and rusted steel in the elevator pit.
The latter comes with a warning from Kone, Inc., the elevator service provider.
“Also, if we can address now, while it’s only surface rust, it’ll be much cheaper than risking it all becoming more deeply corroded over time.”
But wait, there’s more.
After repairs to the generator at the police station GenCare, the service provider, recommends replacing the generator within the next couple of years at a cost of up to $100,000.
That’s a “very rough estimate,” according to GenCare.
The generator, which was moved over from the old police HQ, provides auxiliary power at the station, including to the emergency operations centre. A somewhat important function.
However, there is no remote monitoring system to indicate it requires attention or is inoperable.
You guessed it, another expense will be incurred to install a remote monitoring system.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Does the city’s expert property manager, Ross Tucker, really have things well under control?

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CORRECTION: While Beatrice Manor is operated by Niagara Supportive Living, in fact, the fine was levied against the previous owner, South Bridge Health Care for Fire Protection and Prevention Act violations.

A thank-you note this week from Karen Barry provided the impetus to revisit the depressing case of warehousing some of this city’s most vulnerable residents over at Walnut Manor.
Early in 2018, Barry’s father Rick spent several months in this unfortunate hovel – not of his own volition, mind you – as he awaited surgery to deal with the side effects of a stroke.
Ultimately, his daughter was seeking accommodation for him closer to her residence in Sarnia.
She writes, “I wanted to give you an update on my dad Richard Barry who used to live at Walnut Manor.
“He is presently living independently in his own really nice one-bedroom apartment. He has support services who help with his care and he has hired supports to help him with other areas of daily living. He is doing well and in full control of his nutrition and food choices.
“Needless to say he is in a far better place then he was during the time he spent at Walnut Manor.
“I wanted to thank you again for your coverage of the many issues the people who live there have had to contend with. There is a lack of advocacy that you have helped to bring forward.”
Walnut Manor is owned and operated by Vishal Chityal – also known as Charlie Duke – through Niagara Supportive Living.
Well, Vishal/Charlie has been in the news rather consistently of late for the manner in which he operates some of his homes in the Niagara region.
In September of this year, he was fined $5,000 for damaged fire separations and a fire system not being maintained in operating condition at one of his properties on Fraser Street in Port Colborne.
He was also fined $4,000 for failing to maintain a smoke alarm in a residential unit.

Beatrice Manor Welland jpg

Beatrice Manor, Welland

And, just this past week, Niagara Supportive Living was fined $35,000 in Provincial Offences Court for failing to install an automatic sprinkler system in Beatrice Manor, which it operates in Welland.
Under the Ontario Fire Code, existing care occupancies, care and treatment occupancies and long-term care homes were mandated to install automatic sprinkler systems by Jan. 1 of this year.
As reported in the Welland Tribune, Welland Fire and Emergency Services noted, “Care occupancies house some of our community’s most vulnerable persons and fire code violations will not be tolerated.”
We’ll check in with the fire inspection situation at Walnut Manor in the coming week.

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In order to live with the, in some cases, catastrophic impacts of climate change, Ontario residents are going to have to build adaptation and resilience into their lives.
That’s the message from Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, the province’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, who introduced on Friday (Nov. 29) the government’s advisory panel on climate change.
The announcement at Ryerson University in Toronto came on the one-year anniversary of the Doug Ford government’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan designed to balance “a healthy environment with a healthy economy,” according to Yurek.
The panel has a local flavour with Western University’s Paul Kovacs the designated chairman.
He is the founder of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at Western.
Along with vice-chair Lynette Mader of Ducks Unlimited, the panel will consist of eight members including Keith Currie, in his third term as president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Yurek noted the panel consists of experts on climate change resiliency who have experience in a variety of sectors, including the not-for-profit, agriculture and insurance sectors.
So, what exactly is this climate change panel charged with?
“We’re going to be working on how do we incorporate resilience and adaptation so people can deal with the hazards that are occurring today because of climate change,” explained Yurek following yesterday’s announcement.
“This council is going to be advising me on the best way forward on that.”
Yurek continued, “They are pretty excited to get to work so they will probably have their inaugural meeting in the next little while.
“I’ve given them full opportunity to work with all the ministries here at the government because climate change is cross-ministerial and they will be moving forward to help direct the government on getting adaptation and resilience built into Ontarian’s lives.”
He noted the panel will be reporting to him on an on-going basis.
“And advising me probably after each of their meetings to give us some direction. It will be a combination of recommendations and or advice on our plan going forward.”
While the panel’s mandate focusses on dealing with the impacts of climate change, what about proactive measures the government and Ontario residents can incorporate into their daily lives?
Yurek noted the panel “will be looking at what measures municipalities, communities and individual Ontarians can take to prepare for the changing climate and ward off the poor effects we are seeing.”
No mention of weaning off fossil fuels, increased reliance on public transit in light of further widening of Hwy. 401 in the GTA and alternative energy sources. We asked Yurek how much input will the public has since it is the residents of this province who must become resilient and adaptive?
“That would be up to the committee to decide,” explained Yurek, “but they are more than welcome to do so if they see fit. We are continually consulting on our plan for the environment and the committee will have the opportunity to engage with everyday folks.”
The committee will be on-going, stressed Yurek, “and its mandate, of course, can change over time as needs arise. And, the membership can change as well if we need different expertise.”
On the same day a climate emergency rally was held in front of city hall in St. Thomas, you have to wonder that there must be a more direct course of action than the formation of another committee.
Can’t help but return to English author John le Carre and his observation, “A committee is an animal with four back legs.”


Her party came up short in the fall federal vote, however, as it turns out, Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio is a two-time winner.
Not only was she re-elected in decisive fashion, but Friday (Nov. 29) Vecchio was named Shadow Minister for Women and Gender Equality.
In her first term as MP, she served on the Status of Women Committee as both a member and as the chair.
As a member of the shadow cabinet, Vecchio says she will ensure the government is doing everything it can in the fight against human trafficking, as well as maximizing opportunities and support for women who are survivors of violence and abuse.
Vecchio adds she will advocate on behalf of women working in the STEM stream – science, technology, engineering and math – as well as those employed in agriculture, oil and gas, and manufacturing. Industries where women are traditionally underrepresented.
In a release announcing her appointment, Vecchio noted “Women are involved in every sector of the Canadian economy. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has chosen to ignore the voices of many women who are frustrated with the lack of action on important projects such as pipelines and much-needed support for agricultural producers.
“Women entrepreneurs struggle against rising taxes and red tape in the Canadian economy.”


Tonight (Nov. 30) is Improv Night at Rail City Bistro. According to the Facebook invite, you are welcome to “Come and watch the legends (in their own minds) of comedy as they create a show before your very eyes based entirely on the things you suggest.” It all begins at 8 p.m.

The city will hold three meetings next week to discuss the proposed 2020 municipal budget. The first is 5 p.m. Monday in the council chambers at city hall. The second meeting is also in the council chambers, 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The final session is at 5 p.m. on Thursday at the same venue. All meetings are open to the public.

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