Concerns aired on new Robert Moore School

FORT FRANCES—Parents, staff, and members of the public asked questions and voiced concerns last Wednesday night at Robert Moore School during an information session regarding construction of a new school there.
But since the Rainy River District School Board still is in the early stages of planning a rebuild on the Robert Moore site, many concerns were ones that could be addressed and considered later on in the planning process.
Nonetheless, director of education Jack McMaster stressed feedback from the community is welcomed.
“We plan to be transparent and to work with the public,” he pledged. “I believe this is an exciting time and a good thing for our town.”
“With lots of views and ideas, it can’t help but be successful,” added board chairman Dan Belluz.
Several of the concerns brought forward at last Wednesday’s meeting had to do with space allocation in a new facility. Some were worried the new school, while it would be built to certain requirements, might be smaller than the current one.
J.W. Walker, which was renovated and expanded during the 2003-04 school year, was used as an example. Some people said they felt the classrooms there are much smaller than what Robert Moore has now.
Others said they fear losing the large gym at Robert Moore. Elementary schools only are required at have a 3,000 sq. ft. gym—and Robert Moore’s is larger than that.
One women noted the gym is a facility used by the community. She suggested that perhaps it could be saved and maintained even if the rest of the school is demolished.
Other questions about the funding and child care in the new facility, as well as what would happen to the outdoor rink, baseball diamonds, and parking, also were brought forward last Wednesday.
One community member also asked the board to look into refurbishing and modernizing the current school because of sentiment and memories.
During the information session, McMaster explained why a rebuild of Robert Moore School is necessary. He noted the school was declared “prohibitive to repair” by the Ministry of Education back in 2003, which means the building is too costly to fix up.
And last month, the provincial government offered to provide planning approval for a total capitalized value of $9.8 million to address facility conditions.
This means the board has entered into the first phase of building a new school. The funds are there—but it still has to go through the planning process in order to gain approval from the ministry and receive the funds.
McMaster indicated he’s confident the board will receive approval as it plans to work closely with the ministry.
“We will have the O.K. this summer sometime,” he noted, admitting the timelines are a bit vague at present because the board first wants to finish the consultation process for F.H. Huffman School.
An Accommodation Review Committee is looking at a possible closure of that school and having it consolidate with Robert Moore.
A recommendation will be made to the board in June, following two more public consultations scheduled for Feb. 12 and April 8.
In the meantime, however, McMaster noted they can begin planning for a rebuild of Robert Moore, which they plan to go ahead with regardless of whether the board decides to close Huffman, which also has been deemed “prohibitive to repair.”
He indicated further into the spring, the board will ask for interested stakeholders (parents, teachers, and community members) to put their names forth to sit on a planning committee.
It will select an architect for the project and aid in the design of the new school.
If it’s decided Huffman will consolidate with Robert Moore, parents from that school also will be invited to sit on the committee.
McMaster said the earliest possible date for opening the new school would be September, 2010.
“Thus, there is time to celebrate the years with Robert Moore School and energize over the planning of the new facility,” he remarked, adding he appreciates there is much sentiment with the building, but that it’s time to move forward.
“It’s an opportunity to design a school to excite kids,” he stressed. “To meet the needs of the kids today and in the future.”
Anyone with questions is encourage to contact the board office at 274-9855. Meeting minutes and answers to questions will be posted on its website at www.rrdsb.com
(Fort Frances Times)