On Sept. 8, Education Minister Dale Kirby publicly accused our trustee of spreading “falsehoods” and causing anxiety for the parents and children of our region. The premier and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) board of trustees have not addressed this inexcusable behaviour by a minister.
There are four points in Minister Crocker’s letter I would like to address:
1. The $5.3 million allocated in 2018/19 for the completion of an extension.
The Way Forward, released in March 2017, announced $5.3 million for 2017/18 to begin construction of the extension. There has been no announcement of funding for the completion of the extension in 2018/19.
2. The statement “There will be no disruption of the cemetery due to construction.” Mobile Cemetery contains graves dating back to the 1800s, many of which are now unmarked due to the passage of time. Unmarked graves were unearthed during construction of an extension to the old high school on the site several years ago. There is no way to ensure the cemetery won’t be disturbed.
3. The completion date has not been delayed.
4. The budget has not increased.
Points 3 and 4 are contradictory to information we have received. Access to information requests reveal that at a meeting of the project team in March 2017, the extension was estimated at 30 per cent over budget and completion delayed to December 2018. (Completion is required by September in order to reconfigure Grade 6 students from St. Bernard’s to Mobile).
During a meeting with Transportation and Works employees (the project team), parents and our MHA on May 25, 2017, we were told the extension will likely not be completed until spring 2019 and that the cost is not expected to exceed $10 million, even though access to information requests show the original estimates were $3 million to $4 million and the total proposed budget for the project was $7 million.
Minister Kirby sent correspondence to our parent group in May 2017 which stated, “… there have been some preliminary budget pressures identified…” and “…it has become unlikely that the extension can be completed by September of 2018 based on planning to date.”
As we approach the end of September 2017, work at the site has not commenced and, despite several requests for updates on construction design, septic analysis and upgrade plan, the traffic and parking plan, the completion date and a contingency plan for September 2018, no information has been forthcoming from either Education or Transportation and Works.
The contingency plan for our children at St. Bernard’s will most definitely include converting the music room, library and cafeteria into classrooms, even after extension is complete. Why is this acceptable?
In addition, Minister Kirby insists a 300-student middle school for our region would cost $28 million. Access requests show estimates of $13 million. No school of similar capacity built in the last number of years has come close to $28 million.
Government has had ample opportunity to inform us of any changes to budget and timeline. The premier and Minister Crocker have not responded to multiple meeting requests, and Finance Minister Tom Osborne has refused to meet with us.
Minister Kirby has a mandate to “follow the principles of openness, transparency and accountability” — none of which are evident on this project. Instead, Minister Kirby and Minister Crocker have resorted to mudslinging and accusing our parent group and school board trustee of lying and creating anxiety to detract from a transparent discussion.
We live in the fastest growing region in the province. The enrolment numbers are enough to justify a new middle school, which would alleviate capacity issues for years to come and would be a fiscally responsible solution. An extension to Mobile High School is a two to three year fix that will only compound problems.
Susan Stamp, concerned parent
St. Bernard’s Elementary and Mobile High Schools