Linwood PS is one of two Waterloo Region schools that will take part in the province’s Community Use of Schools Program, the Ontario government announced recently.
The program is part of the Open Ontario plan to help students and families benefit from expanded access to programs and services in the community.
The other school is Stewart Avenue Public School in Cambridge.
“Providing school space for free after hours will help community groups keep their costs low, and help more young people in Waterloo Region get involved in community activities,” said Leeanna Pendergast, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.
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The program involves 175 schools across Ontario. For the 2010-2011 school year, the province will be investing $39.9 million to encourage increased community use of schools, including $5.9 million to help the 175 schools offer their space, such as classrooms and gymnasiums, for free to non-profit groups after school hours. It is also part of the government’s larger plan to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over five years.
“Essentially, the ministry has given money to the board and designated two sites in our board as priority sites,” explained Geoff Suderman-Gladwell, the principal of Linwood PS.
“If you come in and qualify under a broad range of uses, for example youth, seniors, non-profits, or if you’re working with that kind of a group then basically the fee that you would pay is taken out of this lump sum. So essentially the school is free.”
The principal also says that the money has come at precisely the right time for Linwood.
“The Woolwich Community Health Centre is moving their ESL for the Low-German speaking families from Crosshill Church to Linwood school, and it will be there for the next five weeks and hopefully again afterwards in the spring,” he said, adding that he wanted to get parents into the same schools their children attend so they can feel better about the education system and hopefully keep the children in school longer.
“And now all of a sudden there is this program that says, ‘oh by the way you can do this for free now,’ which was fortuitous for us because we have a group now that is taking advantage of it, and has been very appreciative.”
Overall, Suderman-Gladwell is optimistic about the program. He said most people probably don’t even realize that they can in fact rent the space at a school for their non-profit events, let alone how to go about renting it. Now that the space is free, he hopes that even more service groups and non-profits will make use of the opportunity.
“(Schools) have incredible resources in terms of seats, chairs, desks, boards, and things like that. And school gymnasiums are remarkably well stocked and very high-quality rooms for use, but I don’t know that people really understand how easy and inexpensive it is to rent them.”