If you’re a football team looking for a kicker, perhaps you should try looking at the Avon Maitland District School Board’s board of trustees.
Why? If the North Perth boundary review is any indication, these trustees are very capable of punting a decision down field.
Not once, but twice have trustees been sitting third-and-one in recent meetings – options on the table to complete the boundary review and move on – and instead of going for a first down, the offense called for a punt.
For those who don’t speak football, the trustees voted to defer the decision – twice.
The first punt came on April 26, when trustees received recommendations from a consultant and staff on how to proceed. At that time, trustees said there was a “lack of a preferred option” following the results of a public survey.
The options were reviewed again at the May 24 meeting, where trustees were once again at sitting third-and-one and decided to punt instead of go for the first down.
I’m not going to use this space today to say what I believe the correct option is for the board moving forward. What I am going to do is say that this whole issue could have been resolved using a little bit of foresight and common sense.
North Perth Westfield Elementary School, aside from being a mouthful to pronounce, was too small from the moment the plans for the new “super school” hit the planner’s table at the town office.
“One look at the all of the building at the south end of town will tell you that,” one municipal official told me, off the record, back in 2016.
According to the Avon Maitland District School Board’s long-term enrolment projections, which are available on the board’s website, the enrolment at Westfield when it opened in 2016-17 was 546 students, with an on the ground capacity of 629. Today, enrolment at the school is 671.
In five years (2026-27), it’s anticipated that enrolment at Westfield will hit 766 students.
There is already a portable at the school.
Yes, in a mere five school years the population of Westfield outgrew its building.
Listowel Eastdale Public School has an on the ground capacity of 297 students. By comparison, in 2016-17 that school’s enrolment was 252 students, and today is 371. In 2026-27, it is projected that enrolment at Eastdale will hit 462 students.
In January, the province announced $4.3 million in funding for an expansion at Eastdale, which will see 98 new student spaces and 49 childcare spaces added to the school.
Or in other words, it will bring on the ground capacity to 395 students – the number enrolment is anticipated to be at for the 2022-23 school year.
Yet another case of too small before it is even built.
One of the suggestions in the boundary review was to send some students from Listowel’s south end to Elma Township Public School, which has ample capacity at the moment. The same school board data shows Elma has on the ground capacity of 478 students with a 2021-22 enrolment of 347 students. In five years, it is estimated the school will have an enrolment of 362.
With all of the new construction in Atwood – a 74-lot subdivision, along with additional construction – is this long-term enrolment projection for Elma accurate?
I don’t think sending students to Elma is an option.
It was mentioned in the newsroom that students could be diverted to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Listowel.
St. Mary’s currently has an enrolment of 315 students. I was unable to find any long-term enrolment projections on the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board website, and a request for this data was not answered as of press time.
While it may make sense to send students to St. Mary’s, it won’t happen. It’s two different school boards, both of whom want to increase enrolment numbers. Avon Maitland sending students to the Catholic board would be the equivalent of a newspaper telling you to subscribe to its cross-town competitor.
As they say, hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, the correct thing to do would have been to build Westfield to projections, not to what the enrolment at Listowel Central and Wallace Public was in 2015-16.
Naturally, bureaucracy gets in the way and the government says you can’t build a school to projections. In North Perth’s case, that meant putting the blinders on and ignoring all of the new construction in Listowel.
Circling back to my football analogy, I am going to be the offensive coordinator. Instead of punting this time, let’s come back to the line of scrimmage with a new play.
Instead of trying to figure out how to bus students from Listowel to Newry, or where to place a dozen new portables in the next five years, how about looking at the possibility of building another new school in Listowel?
Using the board’s long-term enrolment projections, as well as looking out the window and seeing all the new houses being built in town, it’s the most logical solution to this problem.
A school in Listowel’s south end with an on-the-ground capacity of 450-500 students would help alleviate the enrolment issues at Eastdale and Westfield, and would serve the ever-growing south end of town.
It would also leave you some room to grow.
But that is using common sense and foresight… Instead, I’ll wait downfield, ready to catch the punt.
Mike Wilson is the editor of the Listowel Banner. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.