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New Horseshoe Valley school in limbo awaiting ministry funding

Township official says municipality and school board partnered on project to include centralized community centre; 'We had acquired this property with this future vision. This property checked all the boxes'

A partnership between Oro-Medonte Township and the local public school board for a new school and community centre on Horseshoe Valley Road is sitting in limbo while it awaits funding approval from the Ministry of Education.

This is despite the land having been cleared for the project nearly a year ago.

The township and the Simcoe County District School Board have been working together to develop a new elementary school/community centre facility on the municipally owned 20-acre site at 739 Horseshoe Valley Rd., north of Barrie.

Peter Beacock, who has served as school board trustee for Oro-Medonte/Springwater for 16 years, during which time planning for the Horseshoe Valley project began, said they were hoping to receive approval from the ministry by this fall. 

“The lot was cleared in February 2021, however until funding approval comes from the ministry, the project cannot go out for tender,” Beacock told BarrieToday. “That’s the hold-up. We were hoping it would get done sooner.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce "is talking about wanting projects done quicker, but we are waiting for them to approve it so the board can send it out to tender," the outgoing trustee added. 

Beacock said the board had hoped to receive word on funding sometime this fall, with the possibility of breaking ground in the spring. 

Once built, the school will accommodate 357 students, while the community centre portion of the facility is slated to be approximately 14,500 square feet and include administrative space with self-service kiosks in the lobby area, as well as a gymnasium with spring hardwood floor with acoustical divider, a multi-purpose/program room, a custodial areas and washrooms, and change rooms. 

The design, including site and servicing plans, has also included provisions for a 11,150-sq.-ft. addition to potentially accommodate a multi-purpose area and fitness centre, or space for other future township needs. 

Shawn Binns, the township’s director of operations and community services, said the partnership between the school board and the municipality is a great way to optimize community resources.

“Facilities like the gymnasium would be used during the day by the school, but we are really pooling our resources to provide maximum benefit to the community," he told BarrieToday. "Things like parking, etc., are all shared, so we are pooling public resources to provide the best value to our community."

The township purchased the property in 2013, with council approving $7.05 million in funding to complete the project at its February 2021 council meeting. 

“Our long-term master plan had identified a need for a central community centre located in Horseshoe, and back in that time we’d had discussions with the school board about a potential partnership,” said Binns, adding the official partnership came about in 2017, when the school board was looking at its needs. 

“We looked at a number of potential sites to be able to accommodate that, and we had acquired this property with this future vision. This property checked all the boxes,” he said.

Binns said the design is mostly complete and the project is ready to go out for tender once the board receives funding approval from the Ministry of Education.

“Because the school board funding comes from the ministry, there are a number of approvals that are required to advance to the next step of the project," he said. "We are at that stage where we are ready to go to tender, but we need the ministry to sign off on the submission to allow the board to do that.

"From the township’s perspective, that’s part of the partnership is we have our own processes for approval, but we can’t move forward until each partner advances and that’s where things are,” Binns added. “That’s a really critical path for us, and I think the township and the school board are really hoping the ministry will provide a timely approval on this. 

Binns said the cost of infrastructure, and in particular as it relates to construction, has gone up "significantly."

"That’s probably contributing to the delay and this is not the only project across the province," he said. "If we do get approval, then the plan would be to go to tender in the early winter and start construction in the spring.”

The scope of the project, Binns noted, has evolved over the years.

“We’ve really been looking at advancing this since 2010, so it has been an ongoing project for us. We discussed a number of options with council including the development of a fitness centre … but council wasn’t comfortable advancing with that at that point in time. We need gym space, a large gathering space, and some space for community programming. Those are the two needs that will be addressed in the facility," he said. 

Binns also noted both the school board and the township are preparing for future needs and have included provisions for potential additions to the facility.

“That may come to fruition two years from now or five years from now, we aren’t sure, but we know there will be future needs and that (this is) the right location for those kinds of things,” he said.

Binns says this type of partnership serves as an opportunity for the board and township to pool public resources and help create a 'catalyst' project in Horseshoe Valley.

“The site is 20 acres, so trail development and looking at what we can do to link our communities are all the things that are happening outside of the building itself," he said. "We are really looking forward to providing a venue where our broader community can come together — and that means school, extracurricular as well as community programming.”

The project has been rumoured to be happening for more than a decade, with some residents wondering how this new school will impact the current school boundaries.

“At this point, it’s undecided," Beacock said. "It’s certainly a conversation we’ve had over the last few years. There is going to be an attendance area review taking place where the board takes a look at all of the students in the area to try to come up with a boundary for the new school.”

As part of that, they would need to look at the possibility of shuffling students from other area schools and creating new boundaries, but the trustee noted that's not something that would likely occur until closer to when the school would open, which he hopes will be September 2024.

“The demographics could change a lot between now and when the school is ready to open, so we wouldn’t want to make a decision too early that we have to then change before the school opens," Beacock said. 

Seeing this project finally make its way toward the finish line is a source of pride for Beacock, who is handing over the reins as trustee to Liz Grummet after 16 years representing the area.

“It’s great. There’s been a need for a school in that area for a long time," he said.