“Just bananas”: A multi-decade, multi-level failure with no accountability
“Building a school here may have made sense decades ago, but today it’s just bananas” – David Piccini, MPP Peterborough Northumberland South, in a social media reel filmed outside of The Pines Senior Public School and Clarke High School, located directly on Highway 35/115 in Newcastle, Ontario.
Originally built in the sixties on a two-lane road situated between Newcastle and Orono and serving the surrounding area, the only access point to the two schools is now a short ramp off the northbound 90 km/h highway. All kids are bussed or driven. There is no fencing between the schools and highway, and in fact, in 2011, the Ministry of Transportation apparently designated a “walking path” at the side of the highway for the high school students to get to a Subway restaurant.
Access and safety concerns have been a topic of conversation for decades. “It’s like Groundhog Day”, said longstanding Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board trustee Cathy Abraham.
Municipal council meeting minutes show the issue was discussed in both 1994 and 2002, with the hope of creating another access point for the schools, or a way of getting south to Newcastle without having to go north on the highway and turning around at the next exit.
As the population grew, enrollment at the schools declined drastically, beginning an ongoing cycle of reduction in programming, resulting in fewer and fewer students attending. Many are bussed to high schools in Bowmanville.
Beyond the safety and program concerns, Newcastle is one of the GTA’s fastest growing communities, with the public elementary school already overflowing to the point of sending Grade 6 students up the highway to The Pines as of last September. Grade 5 will be there in 2024. Hundreds of new homes are under construction.
The Ministry of Education has denied KPRDSB’s request for a new school, to be built on land already owned by the Board, in the heart of the new housing developments. The Director of the Capital Program Branch of the Ministry said that “demand for school project funding was significant and the ministry had to make difficult decisions.” The request is being re-submitted.
Following significant pressure from parents including a YouTube video showcasing the safety concerns, a change.org petition with 1,000+ signatures, and an Instagram account organizing the effort, as well as some related media attention, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce visited the schools. MPP Piccini created a 2nd petition which was presented in the Ontario legislature.
Parents have been told to expect an announcement by the end of the school year, which rumour would indicate will be a favourable one. But how could it not be at this point? Is this what it takes to get a new school built in Ontario?
The failures in this case are enduring and extensive. The longstanding trustees who have served this area for 20 years have failed. They accepted “no”. They accepted a walking path beside a highway. They accepted classes being held in the library and on the stage of an overflowing elementary school. The Ministry of Transportation has failed, and the Ministry of Education has failed.
A new school in Newcastle is not cause for celebration – it’s a long overdue necessity. There will be a press conference and congratulatory handshakes, no doubt, where there should be resignation letters.