Arborfield citizens fight for survival of school

Arborfield citizens fight for survival of school

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A small town in northeast Saskatchewan is struggling to save its beloved school, which many say is essential to the character and fabric of the community.

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Last Friday, the North East School Division (NESD) Board of Directors voted 7-1 to go deeper into a review process that could result in the closure of the Arborfield School.

The process will closely examine the pros and cons of maintaining or closing the school. For the past two years, the board has floated the idea of ​​closing the school and busing Arborfield students to Carrot River where a new school is to be built.

Arborfield-area residents want their school to stay open and thrive. Photo by Rob OFlanagan

The vote took place in a meeting room at Tisdale’s RECPlex, where about 35 concerned Arborfield residents rallied to defend the school, most driving the 35 minutes on icy roads.

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Parent Chelsea Edwards spoke for residents along with Al Bronner, Deputy Mayor of Arborfield Rural Parish. Reflecting the mood of the city, they said that their school should not only stay open but modernize.

Edwards’ address to the board began with tears. “My emotions are very high,” she said. Others in the crowd were clearly emotional.

Arborfield, Edwards said, has a “good old days” feel to it, a town with a “whole new spirit.”

She said kids played outside with each other before and after school. The school plays a central role in the city’s cultural life, but the fabric of the culture is seriously disrupted when children are taken to Carrot River by bus.

Al Bronner and Chelsea Edwards address the NESD Board of Directors. Photo by Rob OFlanagan Advert 4

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“We love our school, we want our school and we need our school,” she said.

The idea of ​​consolidating the Arborfield School with a new school in Carrot River about 15 miles away was first proposed in early 2021. If the idea goes ahead, all Arborfield and Carrot River students from kindergarten through 12th grade will attend the new school.

The vote to continue the review was met with concern, anger and sadness, and many believe the closure is a foregone conclusion.

In an interview at Friday’s meeting, Bronner said Arborfield has seen an influx of young families in recent years who are most attracted to small-town life in a rural region where they grew up. They want to raise their children in a small, safe and close-knit community with a good school.

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“This is a younger generation of families who have returned to the city in the last five or 10 years,” he said. “For a small town, we see a large number of young families. Our projected number for the school over the next three years is around 100 students.

These young families, he said, are helping to revitalize the city and the Arborfield School. Registrations for sports like baseball/softball and hockey have risen sharply, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of children in the city, he said.

Part of the rationale for the school review process is a regulatory criterion based on the extrapolation of student numbers. The feasibility of a Kindergarten for a Year 12 school can be reviewed if enrollment falls below 88 students, according to documents released by the Board.

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Arborfield falls well short of those criteria with a current 65 students and only 67 projects for the 2023-24 school year. These projections are variants with those derived from the RM.

The NESD Board voted 7-1 for the review. Photo by Rob OFlanagan

“Next year’s Kindergarten class will consist of 14 students,” Bronner said. “There are many years to come when big numbers come to school.”

Many factors are examined in the verification process, including transportation issues, teaching staff requirements, and the cost of upgrades, to ensure the school is structurally sound and safe. A 2015 estimate put the cost of deferred maintenance at $2.7 million.

Bronner said the school had been neglected by the school department in recent years.

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“The general thought is why it was neglected that the department is building a new school in Carrot and they wanted to close it to increase enrollment in Carrot River,” he said.

Given the passion citizens have for the school, Chairman Kevin Graham said the board’s decision will not be easy. He said board members understand the emotional toll the issue is taking on the community.

Addressing the citizens of Arborfield who attended Friday’s meeting, Stacy Lair, NESD education director, acknowledged that the review process was “long and painful.” She said a final decision would be made by April 30.

The new Carrot River school was originally scheduled to open in fall 2023. Lair previously said the rising cost of building materials and delays in deliveries have made the timeline for completion uncertain. A contractor for the project was selected last June.

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