UGDSB proposes new elementary school to serve Fergus/Elora

GUELPH – A new elementary school may be coming to Centre Wellington.

The Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) has applied to the Capital Priorities Program through the Ministry of Education to ask for a new 308-pupil elementary school in the new Sorbara subdivision on Colborne Street between Fergus and Elora.

“In looking at the current building activity in the Elora-Fergus area, combined with the future planned development in those communities and the size of some of our schools and the limitations we have, we feel that we need to ask the ministry for a new build now,” said UGDSB planning manager Jennifer Passy.

“We’ll require a significant number of portables into the near future if we don’t have a new school available for this growing population.”

Right now there are no elementary schools in Centre Wellington able to accommodate the anticipated growth, according to Passy’s Sept. 10 report to the board’s business operations committee.

Without a new school, future students living in the Sorbara subdivision would be directed to Salem Public School for JK to Grade 6 and Elora Public School for Grade 7 and 8, though Passy said the board would need to annually evaluate where those students would be best accommodated.

The Capital Priorities program provides funding for school boards’ urgent accommodation needs: accommodation pressures, replacing schools in poor condition, supporting past consolidation decisions, providing facilities for French-language rights holders in under-served areas and creating childcare places in schools.

By 2027-28 it is projected the utilization rate of schools in Centre Wellington will be at 125% or approximately 600 students over capacity.

The new proposed school has space for 308 students.

“The ministry generally expects boards to already have the students in their system before they’re asking for new pupil spaces and that means generally the expectation is schools would need to open … (at) about 80% full,” Passy explained.

Because the school is set to open in 2023, some new students likely to be living in the new development will not yet be moved in.

“Right now we’re asking for a school to be opened in 2023,” Passy said.

“We felt it was a prudent and respectful request to ask for what we needed within that shorter timeframe … and then recognizing … that growth is occurring throughout Elora and Fergus, not just in one specific area.

“There will be some ability for other schools to accommodate some of the growth but when we need to respond to the additional capacity at the new school we would make a subsequent business case at that time.”

The current plan is for the school to accommodate students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, Passy said, though she added, “There will have to be some process undertaken to establish what the boundary and grade configuration is.”

The school board does not yet own the land identified as the potential school site, but Passy said the preferred site in the new Sorbara development was set aside and the board has the option to purchase the land.

Passy said she hopes to hear from the government early in 2020 about the Capital Priorities Program.

“They are receiving submissions from all boards across the province,” Passy said. “They have to evaluate all of those needs and there’s a rigorous review process and it does take some time, but based on the last experience in 2017 it was about a four- to six-month window before the board heard an announcement.”

From the time of the request, Passy said a new school takes about two to three years to be built.

Once approved by the ministry the board would bring forward a detailed design, get approval to hire an architect and then go through the review and approval process with Centre Wellington Township for a building permit.

Once construction commences, Passy said it would take about a year to complete the elementary school.

The public will be able to provide input during the boundary review for the new school.

“We would be out to the community of the schools potentially affected by any boundary changes and engaging with those school communities in accordance with that policy and procedure,” Passy said.

The UGDSB also applied for four-room additions at two Shelburne schools (Hyland Heights Elementary and Glenbrook Elementary) through the Capital Priorities Program.