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Board will let OMB decide where new school belongs

Staff also looking for an alternative site to build new high school - outside Barrie, after council rejects site plan that doesn't conform to new planning rules
A school bus passes the vacant land where a new high school is approved to be built on Mapleview Drive at Prince William Way in Barrie. Robin MacLennan/BarrieToday

The question of where a new high school should be built will be answered by the Ontario Municipal Board - ending an impasse between the Simcoe County District School Board and the City of Barrie.

However, that OMB decision might not matter very much.

"Even if the OMB rules in our favour, what other road blocks might there be?" asked SCDSB board chair Peter Beacock. "Can we actually go back to building the school and get cooperation from the city once the decision is made by the OMB? 

"We would have to submit building plans, permits, roadwork, servicing plans and other things that we have to get approved. You have to wonder 'Will they keep trying to hold us up?'."

The site plan for the south Barrie secondary school was rejected last October by Barrie city council because it doesn't conform to the Hewitt's Secondary Plan and urban design guidelines.

While the city wants the school building on the northern part of the property, the Board wants it on the southern part of 225 Prince William Way, for safety and cost reasons.

City councillors discussed the school issue during the inquiries time at a meeting Monday night, saying they were disappointed and surprised that a compromise couldn't be reached.

In a recent meeting with the board, city and planning consultants, there was a verbal agreement that an additional building could be constructed as "future development" at the corner of Prince William Way and Mapleview Drive in order to meet planning rules.

However, the agreement was not reflected in a Letter of Understanding drafted by the board, and that frustrated councillor Mike McCann.

"How could all parties be so focused on a resolution to have a school built and then in such a period of time they, like a turtle, came back to their original site plan?

"I didn't mean to be condescending there ... just that they retracted."

Beacock says architects and planners for the board added walking trails, gardens and green space along Mapleview Drive. Two sports fields, a full-size track and the school building are behind the public area. And the board consulted with urban design specialists who agreed the building was not necessary on the corner.

"After the meeting with the city, the board had two meetings where we discussed at length what the city proposed in the Letter of Understanding. The board made a decision and responded to the City accordingly," Beacock explained.

"We gave direction to staff that if the site plan was not approved by May 16, that they were to submit an application to the OMB. We will let that process play out now.

"The Board also gave direction to staff to continue to look at alternative sites and to evaluate the possibility of additions to existing area schools, rather than build a school on the site at this time."

That could mean building additions at Nantyr Shores Secondary School in Innisfil and/or Innisdale Secondary School in Barrie.

Or finding land for a new school outside Barrie.

Barrie's new urban design policies require buildings to be located along the street frontage and council won't budge on that rule.

According to Beacock, placing the school at the front of the property would require a 20 to 30-foot retain wall and add "millions" to the price of the project.

"This is a beautiful location and we believe that the building would be a real gateway to the whole area," Beacock said.

"Last October, we offered to designate a small piece of property on the corner for a potential future building. This was to compromise our position so the site plan could be approved. It was ignored by the City. Since that time, we hired a consultant who indicated that a building on the corner goes against the City guidelines, so we did not continue down this path."

While an OMB hearing could be months away, Beacock said he would prefer moving the site outside the city.

"I'm not speaking on behalf of the board when I say that, it is just my own opinion," he said.

"We have 17 municipalities that we work with," Beacock said. "These communities and councils are willing and eager to get moving and get schools built. I just don't see how this can get any better if we end up building in Barrie. I just think we will struggle at every turn."

Provincial funding for the new school was approved in January, 2013.

"It's now three and a half years that we have had funding for a school. Honestly, I'm surprised that the Ministry of Education hasn't pulled that money back yet."


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Robin MacLennan

About the Author: Robin MacLennan

Robin MacLennan has been a reporter, photographer and editor for the daily media in Barrie, across Simcoe County and Toronto for many years. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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