The names of several Burlington Central high school alumni are engraved on the cenotaph beside City Hall, where Remembrance Day services will be held on Nov. 11.
In fact the school, which opened in 1922 as Burlington High School, has its own War Memorial honoring former students who gave their lives for their country in the Second World War.
Traditionally, the city’s Remembrance Day parade forms up on Baldwin Ave., right beside the school and veterans drop in to read the names of the fallen on a plaque there before marching down Brant St.
Now a group of parents is preparing for what could be a battle of their own to prevent the Halton District School Board from closing the region’s most historic education facility, which houses classes for teens from Grades 7 through 12.
Research by board officials indicates there are too many empty spaces at both Central and Lester B. Pearson high schools, located on Headon Road.
The board has laid out several options to solve the problem, but the one it favors at this point is closing Central and Pearson at the end of 2018. Central students would be transported by bus to either Aldershot or Nelson high schools, with Pearson students being shifted to M.M. Robinson.
The 104-year-old Central elementary school, which is adjacent to the high school, would remain in operation. However, if the high school closes, a Program and Accommodation Review might be needed for elementary schools that feed into Central for Grades 7 and 8.
Board officials say utilization currently is only 68 per cent at Central and just 65 at Pearson.
Michael Kukhta, chair of the school council, said he believes there are solutions to the problem better than shutting down Central.
“In three years Aldershot high school will be at capacity and will have to add portable classrooms,” he said. “Why add portables at one school and shut down another? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Kukhta said that while the board report showed enrolment at Central is declining, it actually is increasing and is projected to increase over the next few years.
Lynn Crosby, secretary of the council, suggests the board could look for community partners who might be able to utilize part of the school.
The council also has pointed out that, because of intensification, the population in the downtown area actually is growing. Countering that, the board says new condos are being occupied mostly by people without children.
A Program and Accommodation Review (PAR) process has begun, with information sessions to be held at each Burlington high school. Parents and taxpayers will be able to share their perspective on the educational needs of their children and their views on the board’s specific proposal for change.
There are five other schools involved in the review – Aldershot, Dr. Frank J. Hayden, M.M. Robinson, Nelson and Robert Bateman.
At the other end of the spectrum, Hayden secondary school on Dundas St. already is over capacity and is using portables. It was built for about 1,100 students, but now is pushing towards 1,500 and expected to be closer to 1,800 within the next five years.
Leah Reynolds, school board trustee for Wards 1 and 2, was the only trustee to oppose the proposal to close Central and Pearson at an Oct. 19 meeting. However, she was out of town on business and could not be reached for comment in time for The Bay Observer’s press deadline.
The board will not make its decision on which Burlington high schools to close until next May.
Marianne Meed Ward, councillor for Ward 2 in which Central is located, says she is hopeful the board’s final recommendation will not be the same as the one put forward as a starting point for discussion.
“Schools are one element of what makes a complete walkable, healthy community,” she said. “Downtown is an urban growth centre, expected to take the highest amount of population and job growth in the city. This growing community needs a school.
“I believe the community can meet the challenge to find creative alternatives to the issues the board may face that don’t involve school closure of Central high school.”
Written by: Denis Gibbons