Two-year reprieve

SRSB votes to close Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre

By Lois Ann Dort    

PORT HAWKESBURY – After months of lobbying from the community of Mulgrave to save Mulgave Memorial Education Centre, the Strait Regional School Board voted to close the school at a tension-fraught meeting in the SAERC auditorium on Wednesday, April 13. After several motions amending the original motion, from a P to Grade 4 school as of September 2016 with complete closure in June 2017 to a P to Grade 6 school with complete closure in June 2018, the final vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the motion for closure with one dissenting vote cast by District 10 board member Mallori Nickerson.

Rosalee Parker, the board member representing the Mulgrave area, was visibly upset during the voting process while others could be seen struggling to make a decision on the motion to close the school. Parker addressed the board and members of the public: “First I want to thank the people of Mulgrave who I represent for their support; for the many phone calls, letters and emails. I especially want to thank the SOC (School Options Committee)...I know what a difficult job you were entrusted to do. This process that would expect a committee from an area to come up with a possible closure of their own school, in my opinion, was flawed. This process should have allowed the SOC to look at all scenarios for students. This new school review process that does not allow board members to take part in the public meetings, and not to be part of the SOC, especially from their area, is very upsetting. And then we are expected to vote.

“I also feel the Mulgrave Professional Centre in the school could have been used more for profit. Companies and other school boards could have been approached to use the facility for financial gain for the board. This centre could play a major roll in the upcoming economic development of Mulgrave and Guysborough County as a whole,” said Parker.

She went on to note that safety was a concern in light of bussing over the Canso Causeway. “The people I represent also made this issue a priority.”

Parker concluded her comments by stating that Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre should not be on the chopping block at this time, when the community of Mulgrave and the County of Guysborough as a whole is on the crest of major economic development. Her comments were met by loud support from community members who attended the meeting.

The decision to postpone the school closure to 2018 was made in order to give the area time to reap the benefits of upcoming developments slated for the area. Board member Lian Parsons voted for a P to Grade 6 school with a two-year delay in closure, explaining her decisions by stating, “If we’re going to give Mulgrave a chance, let’s give them a real elementary school...let’s give them a true chance.”

After the vote to close the school was cast and the board meeting was officially concluded, the floor was open to the public. Basil Ryan, who was a leader in the community effort to keep the school open, spoke to the board stating that, “I want to thank people for their diligence in this process...I appreciate the fact that you considered leaving the school open a bit longer and hopefully we’ll see some of the economic development actually happen...On behalf of the community I want to thank the board.” His comments were met with a standing ovation from the audience.

One point that was not addressed in the public meeting was the future of the Mulgrave Professional Development Centre. SRSB Superintendent Ford Rice addressed the future of the Centre when questioned by the media after the public meeting. “To the extent possible, the Professional Development Centre will remain at Mulgrave during that two-year period, until June 30, 2018.”

When asked if the centre would be moved to SAERC at that time, Ford said, “That’s another motion for another day.”

The Mayor of Mulgrave Lorne MacDonald spoke to The Journal about the decision to close MMEC the morning after the board meeting. “It’s better than what we thought was going to happen going into last night. That’s positive anyway...It gives a little breathing room...It’s bittersweet but it is something we can work on between now and 2018...Hopefully we may be able to get it back on the table.”

When asked what difference a two-year reprieve might make MacDonald said, “One thing that might make the difference is if the LNG (Bear Head) goes, there might be more people in Port Hawkesbury and then that school gets full. That is one thing that could happen.”

The decision at the Strait Regional School Board meeting last Wednesday will see MMEC Grade 7 and 8 students move to the Tamarac Education Centre (TEC) in September 2016 and Grades P to 6 move to TEC in September of 2018.