Neighbours don’t want to see high school on Strathallan Street

Board hears numerous reasons why proposed site for Catholic high school in Fergus is not a good choice

FERGUS – A growing population, schools bursting at the seams, and a desire to get children off school buses are the main reasons the Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) wants to build a high school in Fergus.

Dangerous traffic conditions, mixing teenagers with elementary students on the same campus, and losing a neighbourhood park are the main reasons the crowd at the Wellington County Museum and Archives on May 28 was against building the school on Strathallan Street in Fergus.

The school board has proposed constructing a new high school directly beside St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School and possibly physically connecting to it.

The meeting at the museum was the first of a few public meetings that will be held on the topic.

Right now, all Catholic students in the board must travel to Guelph to attend high school – even those as far away as Mount Forest.

WCDSB associate director Tracy McLennan told the gathering the board conducted its first long-term accommodation plan in 2019, “and we heard loud and clear that our communities in Fergus and north Wellington would like to see a Catholic high school in Wellington County.”

McLennan said some 400 students are bused from the county to Guelph every day. The majority attend St. James Catholic High School in Guelph and some attend Our Lady of Lourdes.

But St. James is projected to be at 130% capacity and Lourdes at 120% capacity in the next few years.

“So there is a need” for a new school, McLennan added.

The school board has to submit its request for capital funding to the Ministry of Education and these applications do better when land is already secured and especially when construction can be combined with existing buildings, noted director of education Michael Glazier.

That makes Strathallan Street the perfect location, he said.

The new high school is proposed to be two storeys, fronting onto Strathallan Street, with 21 classrooms and 105 parking spaces, although it was stressed several times these were conceptual plans only at this point.

A sports field would be relocated behind the school. The building will eat up some of the park.

Wellington Catholic District School Board director of education Michael Glazier, speaks to attendees at a public meeting on May 28. The board has proposed building a new high school beside St. Joseph elementary school on Strathallan Street in Fergus. Photo by Joanne Shuttleworth

The township can only sell land when it’s been declared surplus. At the recommendation of township staff, Centre Wellington council declared Strathallan Park surplus in January to ease the process for the school board.

This was a sticking point for many people who attended the meeting.

“I don’t understand how this park, that is used daily, can be declared surplus,” said one man.

“This area is exploding,” said a woman in the audience.

“You’ve proposed there will 492 students, but you know you will be putting portables there. You should put (a high school) in a new development. I don’t understand why you’re picking on our little neighbourhood.”

Another woman suggested the site is already too small. Add special events like hosting board-wide sports events or even just school-wide events for parents, and there’s not enough parking, she said.

Another man noted Centre Wellington Township and Tree Trust planted 17 celebration trees in Strathallan Park in 2018. The celebration tree program has ended, but individuals could plant a tree in memory of a loved one.

“I hope they (the trees) won’t be removed or damaged,” he said.

“This is the only sports field north of the Grand River,” said another man. “This is a tiny lot. There should not be another school there.”

Other attendees spoke of the traffic and congestion on Strathallan Street at arrival and dismissal time and worried it would become even more dangerous with another school next door.

And some worried that drugs and sexual behaviour might migrate from the high school to the elementary school.

Board officials said this was an information session and they would take the comments they heard and see what they could do with the concept.

Only if the ministry approves the proposal will it move forward, they added.

The topic came up again at the Mayor’s Town Hall at the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex on May 30, where a few residents asked the mayor why the park was declared surplus and why a high school had to be located there.

Watters said school boards determine where schools should be located, but they work with the township.

Pat Newson, managing director of community services, said the naturalized play area that’s currently at the school will remain but it might be moved.

There will be a full-size soccer filed, which is lacking in the township, she said.

Newson said other nearby parks, like Webster Park, will be improved and she noted a renewed Forfar Park opened a couple of years ago.

And the school grounds will be available for public use outside school hours.

Regarding the memorial trees, Newson said they have contacted the people who paid for memorialized trees and other arrangements will be made for those.

Some trees may have to be removed for the new building, “but the board will own those trees if they buy the property,” she said.

Watters promised to have school board officials attend his next town hall meeting, which will take place some time in the fall in Elora.