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Ministry figures show Simcoe County schools need repairs to the tune of $243 million

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

View of Barrie Central Collegiate. 
Rowell Photography

View of Barrie Central Collegiate. Rowell Photography

Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is required in repairs for English-language public and Catholic schools in Simcoe County.

Figures released by the Ministry of Education in August show the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) have a combined repair bill of $243,153,782. Approximately 87% of that total comes from repairs needed to the 114 facilities listed on the public side.

The SCDSB numbers are slightly inflated, however, as they include the recently closed Barrie Central Collegiate Institute and the soon-to-be-closed Ardtrea campus of Ardtrea-Cumberland Beach Public School in Severn Township. Removal of those schools from the list leaves the public board with a repair bill of $188,442,635.

The list released by the ministry calculates a school’s facility condition index (FCI), which compares the cost of repairs to a school to that of replacing it. Twin Lakes Secondary School in Orillia has an FCI of 30%, which is at the bottom of the “poor condition” spectrum. Repairs to Twin Lakes are estimated to cost about $7.7 million, 30% of the approximately $26 million it would cost to replace the building.

The SCDSB schools have an average FCI of 15.73%, nearly 40 points lower than the Toronto District School Board, which has the largest FCI in the province. The local Catholic board average FCI is less than half of its public counterpart’s, at 7.04%.

While, overall, the facilities in both boards are in better shape than others throughout the province, the deteriorating state of the schools is not news.

“We use a (VFA) database to track asset management. This helps us determine the overall needs of the board and each school,” John Dance, SCDSB superintendent of facility services, said in an email. “Feedback from onsite personnel and maintenance/operations staff also helps us determine the highest needs throughout the board.”

The priority for renewal work is determined on the condition of individual components and the impact on the facilities as they deteriorate, Dance said, using roof or boiler failure as examples of what would be higher priorities.

Pauline Stevenson, communications manager for the SMCDSB, said, while helpful, the FCI doesn’t paint a full picture of what may be needed at any one facility.

“For sure, it’s a good starting point, but it’s really just a paper exercise, where they’re looking at when the roof was replaced, how old the HVAC system is,” Stevenson said. “They’re not really going and taking a look at the site or the actual facility.”

She used Bradford’s St. Charles Catholic School as an example of a facility that probably requires more work than indicated by its FCI of 24%. Only 91 students attend the school, but with thousands of new residents expected in its catchment area in the next few years, more than $1.14 million could be needed to bring the school up to snuff.

Stevenson highlighted the general good shape of the schools in the SMCDSB, thanks in part to newer builds over the past two decades, as enrolment climbed. The numbers released by the province show none of the local Catholic schools are in poor or critical condition. However, many still require significant repairs, including $2.25 million for Sacred Heart in Midland and nearly $1.2 million for Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia.

Accordingly, less money for repairs was provided to the SMCDSB this year, about one-fifth of the $15 million given to the SCDSB.

“Our funding is definitely less than a lot of other boards, but I guess that’s due to the condition of our schools being fairly good,” she said.

But the cash crunch is still felt, particularly when campuses hosting fewer than 50 students are operating. An accommodation review will likely begin this year for Our Lady of Mercy in Honey Harbour, which requires $787,360 in repairs. Foley Catholic School in Brechin, needing $169,466 in repairs, may see an influx of students thanks to a closure in the neighbouring Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board.

However, in both boards, the decision to close a school goes beyond the state of repair. There’s no magic number, Dance confirmed, as evidenced in closures at Ardtrea-Cumberland Beach and Barrie Central. Ardtrea’s FCI was 32%, putting it in the poor category, while Barrie Central was at 72%, one of two critical schools in the SCDSB.

Other factors were at play in both decisions.

“Facility condition, building accessibility, current and projected enrolment, the types of programming currently available and any new or specialty spaces that are needed are all considered,” Dance said. “The decision to close and relocate students or to submit a business case for a new school is based on more than facility condition. We also look at building accessibility, enrolment and available programming. For closure to occur, there must be a pupil accommodation review, which includes community consultation.”

In the case of Ardtrea-Cumberland Beach, no accommodation review was needed “because the population within the school’s attendance area will continue to support a school with effective programming,” Dance said.

That new school — Severn Shores Public School — opened last week.