School district keeps million-dollar view

James McLeod
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Liberal Education critic Jim Bennett

The Eastern School District has agreed to pay more than $1 million per year for office space in downtown

St. John’s until 2016 — despite the fact the school board will cease to exist in two months.

An order-in-council posted on the provincial government’s website indicates the Eastern School District will lease 22, 646 square feet in Atlantic Place at $48.11 per square foot.

Ken Morrissey, spokesman for the school board, said it actually negotiated a slightly cheaper rate — $46.11 per square foot — but that still works out to more than $1 million per year before HST.

The new lease runs until the end of May 2016. It was approved by cabinet June 16.

Morrissey said the office space was not put out to public tender.

“We did actually consult with a real estate company to, I guess, assess market conditions and look for other possible sites,” he said. “Through that it was determined that we wouldn’t be able to find a space that was suitable for our requirements, and then we didn’t actually go to tender. We do feel that, while there was no tender, we did due diligence while looking through this.”

Morrissey said the rental rate doesn’t involve upgrades or renovations to the office space.

According to a late-2012 presentation by commercial real estate services company Colliers International, the average net rent for Class A office space in

St. John’s is $20.50 per square foot. Average Class B office space is listed at $16.64 per square foot.

Liberal Education critic Jim Bennett was shocked when he saw the government order authorizing the rental.

“Good grief, that’s a lot of money,” Bennett said. “Don’t they have more property? Don’t we have vacant schools that could be refurbished or rented?”

Bennett said he can’t think of any reason why the school board would need offices downtown in some of the province’s most expensive space.

Further confounding the situation is the fact the Eastern School District will fold in September as part of the provincial government’s plan to amalgamate the province’s four English-language school boards into one mega-board. The government’s primary justification for that to save money.

An emailed statement from Lorne Wheeler, chairman of the transition team that’s amalgamating the school boards, said that he wasn’t consulted on the new lease.

“The transition committee was not involved in the discussion or decision to extend the lease of Atlantic Place, as it is the responsibility of the Eastern School District,” Wheeler said.

Morrissey said there are reasons why the school board offices need to stay in Atlantic Place, even after the school districts are amalgamated into a mega-board.

He said the primary reason is the computer equipment housed in the building, which serves the entire school board region.

“We basically run all our IT infrastructure out of here, so we have server rooms, data centres and cooling systems that operate for all of that that operate here, so we would need to find another place to move that that would be adequate,” Morrissey said.

“Some other locations we looked at did not have those.”

Bennett doesn’t buy it; he said  somewhere other than downtown would be cheaper and better.

“It’d be much easier for people to get there; parking would be free or cheap. The real estate is low-cost. There must be land on the outskirts of the city and buildings that could be occupied,” Bennett said. “Why are we renting 22,000 square feet — that’s over half an acre of office space — for three years? We’re going to tie this new board, the English board, by a decision made by Eastern School District.”

Education Minister Clyde Jackman was in Nunavut for meetings this week, and was unable to be reached for comment.

St. John’s North New Democrat MHA Dale Kirby can empathize with the school board’s office space challenges. He said when he was elected in 2011, he wanted to set up a constituency office in his district to be accessible to residents, but because real estate was prohibitively expensive, he decided to take office space in Confederation Building instead.

As for the cost-efficiency of amalgamating the school boards, Kirby said it will only be possible to assess that years from now, after it’s all said and done.

“It’s really hard to pass any judgment right now with respect to the cost, because what we would really have to have is the final, total cost of the supersized school district, and to line that up against the costs of the four prior English boards,” he said.

“It’ll take a while for all of this to work its way through, and we can give it a full assessment then.”

Kirby said the NDP is committed to reversing the government’s plans to amalgamate school boards, but he doesn’t have a problem with the three-year lease agreement. He said he envisions that when the NDP is elected in 2015, it’ll take a year or so to reverse the decision, which takes you into 2016.

“We won’t be able to wave a magic wand and undo what this government has so wrong-headedly gone forward with,” he said. “When we have an opportunity to bring school governance back to the local level, it will take some time, and maybe up to the best part of a year to restore local democratic decision-making through regional boards, and that is our intention.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Colliers International, NDP, English board

Geographic location: Atlantic Place, Nunavut, Confederation Building

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Recent comments

  • Concerned
    July 09, 2013 - 18:03

    Outrageous waste of taxpayers money !!! Both The Bd. of Trustees and the Provincial Cabinet approved this new expensive lease while knowing that there are many empty school properties around. It is time for some of these people to go back to school and learn how to be fiscally responsible.

  • you've got to be kidding me...
    July 08, 2013 - 14:09

    This is what ticks me right off - when some people in power decide to take advantage of us and expect us to accept whatever lame excuse they come up with! Do they think we are idiots?! Imagine how much money us tax payers could be saving if these guys did what was best for the people and not for their own best interest.

  • Joe Somebody
    July 08, 2013 - 13:53

    My question is, "Who is the beneficiary here? Who owns this property that is being given such an inflated rate for office space at the expense of our childrens' education? What is their ties to the current government in power? Why would Clyde Jackman agree to paying such an inflated rate when schools in the Greater St. John's area are overcrowded and schools such as Whitbourne are being forced to close? Can anybody at ESDNL spell INCOMPETENCE?

  • concerned
    July 08, 2013 - 13:29

    James... there you go again. Doing investigative journalism, taking initiative, and writing good articles. You should resurrect the Sunday Express.

    July 08, 2013 - 12:28

    The current school board office located in Gander, which is OWNED by the Nova Central School Board, could have easily housed all of this and more They have a large facility which was recently renovated. It has server rooms, data centres and cooling systems too and could have been renovated to accomodate the extra needed to be placed there. Why rent for a $1M a year when you could spend less money to renovate what you already own. This is something that our local MHA, Kevin O'Brien, should have fought for months ago but instead gave his constituents a load of bull about why the school board HAS to be located close to the Government Departments. WIth technology the way it is these days, this is a very poor excuse by government for WASTING taxpayers money!! SHAME ON YOU KATHY FOR LETTING THIS HAPPEN!!! Aren't you supposed to be the keeper of our future???????????????? I can hardly wait for 2015 to oust you bunch!!!!

  • Steve Templeton
    July 08, 2013 - 09:19

    It's called a NETWORK! I can have servers on the other side of the PLANET and still access anything I need from a laptop in a card board box as long as I have internet access! Some excuse to blow $1M bucks! Come sit in my office with me at MUN. It's 30 degrees in here and I'm sitting in an old dorm room renovated so that the staff of our department have somewhere to sit down!

  • Premier Dunderdale or whoever is responsible, we want an answer on the reason for this waste of taxpayers dollars.
    July 08, 2013 - 09:08

    Premier Dunderdale or whoever is responsible, we want an answer on the reason for this waste of taxpayers dollars. Please cancel this lease or sublet this property immediately and spend the money where it is needed in the education system. We all know there are many areas in the education system in Newfoundland and Labrador where there are many deficiencies.

  • Disgruntled
    July 07, 2013 - 18:54

    Not only is the school board paying $1 million for rent, but they also have to subsidize the parking fees for the employees who work in their Atlantic Place office. Since the new English board didn't sign the lease, they shouldn't be forced to stay there. As for the argument about computer equipment - are they suggesting that no other office building ( or vacant school) in St. John's has a server and the proper cooling systems? Do they think we are naive enough to believe that?

  • A parent
    July 07, 2013 - 08:51

    I dont understand why the Eastern School Board are even renting or leasing space,with IJ Sampson there and other vacant schools that could be turned into office space,if it was good enough for our children up until last year then why not good enough for them,you have a nice little St Marys Waterford Bridge Rd that could be turned into offices a school that only has the most 170 children at the best of times,all the staff there when there are two other elementary schools within 5- 10 km of each other.What a waste of money on the school board I like to know who is involved with money is keeping that school opened.Wake up people use your money wisely.

  • marilyn
    July 06, 2013 - 16:00

    St Peter in mount pearl have two boys bathrooms that are to take care of 360 boys you are paying 1million dollars rent a year and those kids do not have a pot to p__s in do the math people .

  • jeremiah
    July 06, 2013 - 13:57

    This kind of just plain stupid decision making is beyond understanding. This is the people's money! Duffyism at its worst. Maybe should appoint some of those so called decision makers to the senate. Stund, stund, stund!

  • Richard
    July 06, 2013 - 13:39

    If amalgamation's purpose is to save taxpayers' money, then the Boards should be amalgamated somewhere more central and less expensive, like Gander or Grand Falls, where necessary travel to other parts of the province can be reduced, where real estate is much cheaper, and where entitled Board members and staff don't go hog wild at restaurants on Duckworth and Water Streets with taxpayer money every time a secretary's birthday must be celebrated.

  • Your ideologies are right on Mr. Bennett
    July 06, 2013 - 12:42

    This is the calibre of person we need to have running our province. Mr. Bennett seems to have an eye for exorbitant waste of tax payers dollars. I have also noticed that he seems to have a knowledge of how our natural resources should be developed, with emphasis placed on not exporting out the resources in the raw state but instead doing the processing of them here in the province. Way to go Jim Bennett! Your ideologies are those I long for in the type of politician I want and know we need to run our province.

  • Darren
    July 06, 2013 - 12:19

    Great use of our tax dollars here. Great job guys, don't worry about our kids, just keep your suites nice and tidy.