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Residents hoping new Chelsea school can be built on time

March 20th,2024 | Municipal News, News

Speaking to the Chelsea council at a packed and at times contentious meeting on March 12, resident Laura Shine, holding her four-month-old daughter, Margaux, quoted a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” Shine was referring to the community’s need for a new French-language elementary school, which is expected to be built by 2026, barring delays. Photo: Madeline Kerr

For a number of residents in Chelsea, a new French-language elementary school, which will be able to accommodate over 300 local children, cannot come soon enough. 

Chelseaite and mother of three, Laura Shine, is one of them. 

Speaking during question period at a packed and at times contentious council meeting on March 12, Shine told councillors that she wanted to represent the voices of parents who support the municipality’s efforts to bring a new school to the centre village by 2026.  

While holding her four-month-old daughter, Margaux, she said that many parents of children who would benefit from the school are not able to attend council meetings, which are on weekday evenings, adding that she fears their voices will not be heard. 

“What can we do, as members of this community…to support this project and support the process?” Shine asked. 

In response, Mayor Pierre Guénard encouraged Shine to “speak to other young families and parents, [tell them] to reach out to their councillor, because right now in our local media we hear just one side of the pendulum.”

In a conversation with the Low Down after the meeting, Shine said that she doesn’t believe the chosen location is perfect, and that she would prefer to see the Chelsea Foundation’s recreational land in the centre village preserved. 

“But,” she added, “we need a school in an urgent way.”

“The best time to open this school isn’t today or tomorrow, it’s five years ago,” Shine said. 

The school’s location has been divisive since the municipality offered one of the Chelsea Foundation’s soccer fields as the site for the new school. 

The Foundation has said publicly it won’t sell the land, meaning the municipality could be forced to expropriate the charity’s land and potentially set a nation-wide precedent in the process. 

Bill 40, passed in 2020, requires municipalities to transfer land to the local school service centre, free of charge, in order to build a school. 

Shine’s sentiments have been echoed by a number of residents that the Low Down has spoken to both on and off the record. Many said they simply want reassurance that there won’t be a delay to the school’s opening, since, according to the local school service centre, approximately 300 children will need placement in Chelsea by 2026.  

Residents say Meredith location is ‘best place for the school’

Mikaila Geisterfer is a parent and Grade 1 teacher, who lives near the future school site. She told the Low Down: “I realize the situation is not ideal, and the [Foundation’s] loss shouldn’t be dismissed, but the location itself is ideal.” 

The location, she said, is “so central, it can be accessed by foot or by bike…and since it’s near the [Meredith] community centre, it will be safe for the kids to walk there from the school.” 

Geisterfer, whose son is now three, said the school will be within walking distance for her family – a relief because, as Grand-Boisé, the existing French-language elementary school in Chelsea, has reached its capacity, and Chelsea’s population continues to grow, she said she worries her son might otherwise have to take the bus to Hull every day. 

President of the Ward 2 Residents’ Association, Jacques Michaud, told the Low Down, “There’s no doubt, it is the best place for the school, barring the impact on the Foundation.” 

For Michaud, the Chelsea Foundation’s concerns are valid, but he said he thinks the charity should reevaluate its position and work cooperatively with the municipality. 

The Foundation has stated that it is not part of its mandate to negotiate the sale of its land, which was gifted to the charity for recreational use in perpetuity, but Michaud said he believes that a school could fit with their stated vision of a “healthy, inclusive and thriving Chelsea community.” 

“The Foundation is fighting for a matter of principle, but they really should be trying to reread their vision and their mandate and [work] to promote that,” added Michaud.

Michaud said, even if the municipality has to expropriate the Foundation’s land, he believes the two can and should work cooperatively, adding, “I think what the municipality is offering right now is very fair.” 

In an email to the Low Down, Coun. Dominic Labrie, who represents most of centre village, expressed regret that the process has so far been fraught. 

“I understand that the Meredith site isn’t perfect. But it’s the least worst, given all the parameters that have to be taken into account, including the need to have a school in 2026,” Labrie wrote. 

“The current situation is a real shame and creates unnecessary anxiety among parents, who fear having to [bus] their children to the city.”

At the council meeting on March 12, Mayor Guénard reminded residents: “We are not going to build a Walmart or a Canadian Tire, we are going to build a school,” emphasizing that “education is the basis of our society.… With an education [our] children can do anything.”

Parents launch petition for new school 

Chelsea parents Laura Shine and Chantale Jacques-Gagnon have started a petition to support the municipality’s efforts to build a new French language school by 2026. 

The petition, titled ‘Let’s build a new school in Chelsea!’, has garnered 344 signatures at the time of publication. 

The petition mentions that Chelsea’s only French-language elementary school, Grand-Boisé, is currently at capacity and explains that the proposed site for the future school has generated controversy because it is situated on the Chelsea Foundation’s community soccer fields. 

It then states: “We believe that the construction of the new school is a priority, and that the municipality’s offer to relocate the soccer field…and to open the school to community activities adequately compensates the losses suffered by the Foundation.” 

The petition can be accessed online at www.change.org

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