The Town of Stratford deserves a lot of credit for dreaming big. The town has a vision and a grandiose plan to develop it. In many ways, it’s certainly justified. Whether all the pieces fall into place remains to be seen.
Stratford’s public pitch Wednesday for two new schools was widely expected. An accompanying sports complex was hinted at, but the sheer size and scope of that proposal left some people amazed at the sheer audacity.
The proposals didn’t come as a surprise for the Public Schools Branch (PSB) and provincial cabinet, after a number of meetings were held between the town and both groups. The town needs the facilities to accommodate immediate and future needs, and the sooner the better. Topping the list is a new junior and senior high school – each able to accommodate approximately 800 students.
There is a dual sense of urgency. Before renovations or additions are made at aging Charlottetown schools, the town wants an affirmative answer on its own master plan. It’s tired of solving problems for city schools using Stratford children.
Next week, the PSB will present the results of its school use study. Stratford is hoping the study will recognize the looming crisis in the town and recommend support for both junior and senior high school construction. The province then needs to come on board.
Stratford’s plans require about 160 acres of land. That's a massive amount of assembly, requiring a huge capital investment. To ensure enough land is available in a suitable location, the town must act now, but needs some assurances the project will proceed - at some point. By going public, the town is signaling a lukewarm reception from the PSB and cabinet - and wants to bring public pressure to bear for a positive answer.
The department of education has generally supported a solution to bus junior and senior students over the Hillsborough Bridge to fill empty classrooms in Charlottetown schools. But things have changed. The population of Charlottetown and area is now increasing, meaning more local students will be attending the city’s junior and senior high schools.
Stratford is growing at the rate of 3 to 5 per cent a year and there is no end in sight. At this rate, the need for a new junior and senior high school is justified. It’s logical to build schools where large numbers of students are living, and looking after those needs offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to solve two pressing problems for Stratford.
Stratford Mayor David Dunphy got the local support he needed at the public meeting and he will take that mandate to next week’s PSB meeting. In the past, the branch and previous school boards consistently underestimated Stratford’s student growth which helped justify the mandate given the PSB by government not to support new school construction.
The timing for Stratford’s proposal couldn’t be more opportune – a growing town, a pending provincial election and a surge in federal infrastructure dollars. The breathtaking education and sports community campus proposal is just what Stratford needs.