By Jennifer Vardy Little and John DeCoste
Nova Scotia’s education minister says she’s well aware renovations are desperately needed at Wolfville School – and she says the province has taken the first step to ensure they happen.
The Wolfville School is among seven schools in the province that will be able to access $500,000 in funds to create a business plan for a future renovation project.
The money, said Education Minister Ramona Jennex, will assist school boards in hiring consultants to help in the preparation of comprehensive business cases. Government and school boards will work together on preparing the cases. As these projects move from study to implementation, further government approvals will be necessary.
"This is very good news for the community - I'm glad I can say it out loud, finally," she said.
Jennex said the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board will be able to access the funds right away. She's hoping the business case will include a community consultation session and will focus on maintaining the school's rich history.
"There's no question Wolfville School needs renovations, and it will get them," Jennex said.
This process, she said, will help create a plan that will show the government exactly what the school board and the community needs from the building.
"I know the Wolfville School is very important to the community and I'm so pleased that through this process, the school board will be able to hire a consultant to scope out what's needed," Jennex said. "I've already had a conversation with the mayor and I'm hoping this will be an opportunity for the community to have a say in what they'd like to see happen.”
AVRSB chairwoman Lavinia Parrish Zwicker represents the Wolfville catchment area on the board.
“We are very pleased we will have the opportunity to do a full scoping analysis of the Wolfville project," she said. "(This) will give us valuable information and options to present as part of our business case for the coming year."
Parrish Zwicker noted that all school boards in the province have been, or soon will be, asked by the Department of Education to submit their priorities for the coming year in terms of capital construction and renovation projects. Having access to this pool of funding "will allow us to hire a consultant to review all the systems of the existing (Wolfville School) building and provide us with options for renovations."
Parrish Zwicker noted the AVRSB no longer identifies individual priorities for capital construction and renovation. Rather, the schools that need upgrades are 'clustered' into three categories, depending on the circumstances surrounding each school, its needs, how urgent the need for an upgrade and for what reason.
"We've been asked by the Department to list our priorities," she said, "but not to prioritize our priorities."
She did confirm that Wolfville school is currently on the board's list of priorities. The scoping analysis and consultant's report will hopefully help determine which option is most feasible to pursue.
Parrish Zwicker stressed, "people need to realize this project will not happen overnight."
In Wolfville's case, funding had been announced for 2014-2015, and the first thing that would have had to happen was a scoping analysis, she said. This announcement "means we might end up a bit ahead of schedule," Parrish Zwicker added.
The Wolfville School was built 62 years ago, in 1950, and the elementary section was added in 1971.
“There’s a lot of history in that school and I’m hoping that will be maintained in the renovations,” said Jennex. She points to one section of the school – which is now just used for storage purposes – where a firing range was once housed.
“The children would come to school, carrying their guns, and go in and do target practice,” she said. “The wall is still in the school. It was part of the post-war culture of the time. I’d like to see bits of history like that somehow preserved with the renovation. It’s a cool school and it’s got a lot of good history.”