Save Greenleaf!

I don’t write too much political stuff here. This is mainly because I don’t follow politics all that closely, and I don’t have strong opinions on a lot of political issues. However, there’s a local issue that’s recently come up that I really have to write about, since it directly affects my family, specifically my kids.

My kids go to Allan A. Greenleaf Elementary School, and Gail is the chair of the school council there (and has been for four years). They love the school, and Gail and I have grown to know the school and its staff pretty well. Over the years that Gail has been on the council, there have been lots of events intended to bring parents into the school and foster a real feeling of community: in particular the annual spaghetti dinner and silent auction which raises a ton of money for the school, and free family movie night.

Greenleaf is right next to Waterdown District High School (WDHS), the only high school in town. They share a parking lot, and there are a bunch of portables between them. WDHS has over 1200 1400 students, and is severely overcrowded; they have an astounding 29 18 portables scattered around the school grounds. They have to expand the school, there’s no question about that. The school grounds, which includes the high school, Greenleaf, and also the local YMCA, is bordered on the south by a fairly major street, and on the other three sides by farmland, all of which is owned by a developer. The school board has been in negotiations with this developer for years to buy some of the land next to the school so that they can expand. This deal recently fell through. I’m not going to comment on that, since I know none of the details of the bargaining, but the end result is that the school will have to expand on its existing land.

Here is a Google satellite map of the area. You can see the high school at the top right, Greenleaf at the top left, and the YMCA at the bottom left. The picture must have been taken a little while ago — I can only see 11 portables at the high school, and only two at Greenleaf, which now has eight or nine.

The board has come up with two plans to solve this problem: (1) build extensions onto WDHS, or (2) take over Greenleaf and make it part of the high school. If they go for option (2), they then have to decide what to do with the 700 kids that currently go to Greenleaf. The two options there are (2a) bus the kids to two currently empty schools in Dundas (~10-15 km away) while they build new schools in Waterdown for them to return to, or (2b) scatter the kids between the other three elementary schools in Waterdown. Either way, the school spirit and environment that they’ve built over the years will vanish, as Greenleaf will cease to exist. In option 2a, at least most of the kids and staff will be moved en masse so the environment would be similar, but they’d still be split in half and they wouldn’t be going to school in Waterdown. They’d be moving to older schools that have been abandoned and stripped (everything from the air conditioners to the fire bells have been removed). Also, there is no timetable for when they might return to Waterdown — the board doesn’t currently even own any land on which they can build a new school.

The board did mention another “unofficial” option: expropriate the land from the developer. They apparently have the power to force him to sell it to them at fair market value, though I believe there are some legal stumbling blocks that make this option difficult. Someone sent an email to the local city councillor as well as our MPP asking them about that possibility. The councillor replied (rather rudely) and said that the city could not help and it was up to the board, but our local MPP said that he spoke to the mayor about it and would look into this possibility. The MPP was helpful and polite, the councillor was unhelpful and rude. One of those two has announced that they will not be running for re-election next time around — three guesses which one, and the first two don’t count.

Option 1 (building additions to the high school) is not without its problems either. The renovations will take two years, during which time the high school students and the Greenleaf students will be going to school in a construction zone. There is only one entrance/exit into the school/YMCA area, so the school parents and staff and YMCA visitors and staff will be using the same entrance as the construction vehicles, and part of the plans include building a second storey above an existing one. While that’s happening, students will not be able to use the first floor of those areas.

The board has not stated which of the options they are leaning towards. They held a public information meeting at WDHS last Wednesday where they outlined the options. Lots of Greenleaf staff members and parents were there. Gail tore a muscle in her calf on Tuesday night and spent three hours in the hospital on Wednesday, but even the inability to walk didn’t keep her away from this meeting. She hobbled in on crutches to make sure she knew exactly what the options were so that she could present them to council at the regular council meeting the next night. The result of that (second) meeting was that the parents and staff are pretty much united that we don’t want to lose our school. We understand that the high school needs to expand, but the option of taking over Greenleaf and busing 700 kids to Dundas or scattering them among the three already-crowded Waterdown schools is simply not acceptable.

At the meeting, a third option was proposed, which will be presented to the school board. The original option (2) was to move the kids to an abandoned school, expand the high school, and then build a new school for the Greenleaf kids to come back to. We submit option 3: the construction should simply be ordered differently. Build a new school, move the Greenleaf students there, and then let the high school take over Greenleaf. The high school is apparently big enough to handle the current student load for another couple of years, so they’ll be OK during the construction of a new school, the Greenleaf students and staff don’t get scattered to the four winds, and after the new school is built, the high school can take over Greenleaf and grow as necessary. Everyone wins.

Greenleaf was built because a group of Waterdown parents wanted a new elementary school and formed a group to look into the possibility. The parents group contacted developers and did most of the legwork and then presented their findings to the board, and Greenleaf was built within two years. Given that, here’s no reason a new school couldn’t be built within the same two year time frame.

Disclaimer: My wife Gail Perrow is the chair of the Allan A. Greenleaf school council. The opinions expressed here are my own. I am not speaking on behalf of her or the council.

Update: Fixed some of the numbers which were inaccurate.


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