New use for old schools – comment/editorial – New use for old schools
May 26, 2008

School boards across Ontario have been watching their enrolments fall for years as a result of rapidly declining fertility rates. That, in turn, has led to half-empty facilities and painful decisions about school closings.

But as a new report from People for Education points out, the education system is resistant to proposals to put these underused schools to better community uses.

For years, civic leaders have urged the conversion of old school buildings into community hubs that would house child-care centres, public meeting spaces, libraries and even health clinics. But the current school funding formula doesn’t give school boards the flexibility to do that.

School boards get their money from the Ministry of Education, which doesn’t handle immigration, health or municipal issues. Former University of Guelph president Mordechai Rozanski urged in a report to the province in 2002 that a cabinet level committee be set up to oversee the integration of services for families, children and youth. But while Education Minister Kathleen Wynne has finally set up a panel to look at declining enrolment, to date nothing has happened.

Meanwhile, the Toronto public school board has begun a review of every school in its system. Former mayor David Crombie last week produced an interim report on what to do with 98 school board properties that have already been deemed surplus.

The report says that, by selling off or redeveloping one-third of these properties, the board could pocket $100 million for other uses. If the report’s proposal is adopted, by law the board would first have to offer the properties to other school boards and government agencies before putting them on the open market.

As school boards across Ontario wrestle with such decisions, the province should show leadership in this area to ensure that enlightened choices are made about the future of these community hubs.

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