Fort Erie has 'a lot on the table' with new high school

By Kris Dube / News Editor
January 20, 2015

FORT ERIE - There are no second chances involved with approving plans for a project that will cost more than $20 million.

That's why holding a public open house to showcase plans for a new high school is an important step, says one member of Fort Erie's town council.

“We only get one chance at this,” said Ward 3 Coun. Kimberly Zanko, who represents the area of Fort Erie that Greater Fort Erie Secondary School is planned to be built.

The District School Board of Niagara has requested a financial commitment of $3.6 million from the Town of Fort Erie for a shared library and theatre.

“There's a lot on the table right now, as far as the theatre and the library,” said Zanko at the open house on Tuesday. 

She said conversations she's had with local residents on plans for the school have varied.

 Some are supportive of the town – while others are hesitant to support higher taxes to pay for the two additional amenities at the school.

A report from town staff in early January explained that if the municipality commits to the full request from the DSBN – it would create a five per cent tax increase over a three-year period.

“That's substantial to residents,” said Zanko.

The proposed site for the new high school is at the intersection of Garrison Road and Municipal Drive, east of Sunset Drive.

Rick Brady, the Town's director of community and development services, said feedback on the project has been extremely positive.

“I've heard absolutely no opposition from the public on the school,” said Brady.

But, that comes with one exception. Brady says he has heard concerns about the extra cost of a library and theatre.

“The only negative is people asking why the Town has to pay so much money,” said Brady.

The DSBN has also said it requires a decision on the $3-million request for the theatre and $650,000 for the library.

“Council have to deal with that in the next little while,” said Brady.

Both facilities, if built, will be shared by the Town of Fort Erie and the DSBN.

The DSBN recently named Fred Louws the first principal of Greater Fort Erie Secondary School.

Also speaking with Bullet News at the open house, he said he was encouraged by the large turnout at the event.

“It's symbolic of what this school is supposed to – which is bring this community together,” said Louws, who is the current principal at Fort Erie Secondary School.

Kim Yielding, the DSBN's manager of communications and public relations, said community consultation is always important.

“This school represents a partnership of the DSBN and the Town of Fort Erie – the more voices we have at the table – the better and stronger the new school will be,” said Yielding.

This is the first new high school built by the DSBN in 30 years and will have a capacity for 750 students.

In a fact sheet handed out to those who attended the open house, the DSBN says the 15-acre site on Garrison Road provides ample room for the school and its athletic facilities.

The board also amenities such as the YMCA, Leisureplex and town hall were factors in the site choice.

“The school's location creates many opportunities for partnerships to support health, well-being and education of students,” says the DSBN.

The board also says it is committed to working with the regional and municipal governments to ensure traffic lights are installed at the intersection of Garrison Road and Municipal Drive.

The provincial government has committed $20.6 million to build Greater Fort Erie Secondary School.  

When it opens in 2017, FESS and Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School will both close. 

The lands purchased include Fort Erie Golf Club's driving range, as well as a parcel along Garrison Road – up to the property line of Green Acres Restaurant. 

The first hole, the 18th green and the clubhouse will all be consumed in the sale but the course will remain open. 

The entire golf course is 84 acres and 15 of them are involved in the purchase.

Kevin Noonan

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