December 13, 2011 there is an important school board meeting starting at 7pm, at 1600 4th avenue. The future of Dieppe and Haultain schools are in question. Parents and supporters are asking for people to come to the meeting in solidarity with both schools and neighbourhoods (see RUE on School Walkability).
I recognize that, for school trustees, closing schools will be one of the hardest decisions they’ll make during their term. Regardless of the difficulty of that decision the results seem clear: removing these schools will cause hardship on students, parents and their surrounding communities. Schools are an important piece of the urban fabric because they provide amenities for many different users: parks, meeting rooms, kitchens, pre-school spaces and playing fields. Schools may exist without strong communities, strong communities are rare without schools.
I do not have any affiliation with either school nor do I live in one of their surrounding neighbourhoods. My interest in these schools largely comes from my educational background and from my interest in cities. For more on my history with small schools continue past the jump.
I am a product of Marion McVeety School in the South Regina. Not only did I attend elementary school there, but I also spent 3 ½ years before Kindergarten (a further five years while in school) at the Massey Road Day-Care located in McVeety’s basement.
A September 15th 1980 Leader Post article (“School-aged day-care centre opens doors at public school”. Page 8) (here) by Janice Hackel explains how innovative the idea of combining elementary school and day-care was at the time. Perhaps there are similar opportunities to use under-utilized spaces in the subject facilities. Are there groups looking to take part of a space? Are there people willing to offset the costs of operating a school by paying rent?
The time I spent, before school, at Massey Road Day-Care fostered a strong sense of place and belonging to my school. McVeety was a small school that, just a few years before I started there, was slated for closure. The small nature of the school meant there was a very close community built around the school building and its grounds. The population of the school was small in the late 80s (less than 100 students) but continued to grow through the 90s to a point where it was no longer in danger.
Coming from this background, I recognize how small schools can build community and change, for the better, the neighbourhood around them. In this regard, I am concerned with the negative effects closing Haultain will have to Eastview and Dieppe to the Dieppe neighbourhood.
Eastview is an isolated residential parcel amid a great swath of light industrial, warehousing and commercial users. It is one of the most unique, established, neighborhoods in Regina. The uniqueness of the school and community should mean population size cannot be the sole attribute for a decision on closure.
A June 26th, 1985 article in the Leader Post, (“Six more schools eyed for closure” by Zena Olijnyk. Page 3) (here) states the following:
Reasons for not closing a school with an enrolment below 150 might include: students having to travel too far to the nearest available school; the school might be considered a vital part of the community; physical barriers, like railroad tracks or busy streets, might make walking to a neighboring school hazardous for the student; and a school might serve a large area despite its relatively low enrolment.
I believe many of these points pertain to Haultain School. There are certainly physical barriers and the school remains a vital part of the community. The School Board must have changed some of the criteria for closure because none of the above quote has been at the forefront of communications I am aware of.
Dieppe, the other school in question, has advantages over Haultain in some respects; with a newer facility and residing in a possible growth area. The Dieppe neighbourhood is not constrained by anything to the West. With this undeveloped area already zoned as urban holding, there is the potential for new development. The new Global Transportation Hub, located not too far away, as well as the RCMP academy, a major employer, makes Dieppe an attractive area for residential development.
Just as with McVeety in the 1980s, there is potential in Dieppe School to grow. That area of West Regina may be in a demographic lull right now, but with all the investment happening nearby, it seems a population rebound may be on the cards.