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Maryhill residents unhappy with WCDSB decision to close school

The Catholic board’s decision to close St. Boniface school in Maryhill in favour of a new building in Breslau comes over the protests of community members. Opponents say the public input was ignored, suggesting the decision was already preordained.

“In my mind, the board had made up their mind before we ever got into the consultation process,” said LeeAnn Wetzel, part of the Maryhill group that opposed the board’s position.

For its part, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board is sticking with plans for a new school in burgeoning Breslau.

A final report in April outlined the reasons for the decision through a number of studies concluding that Breslau’s student population was larger than Maryhill’s and therefore merited the transfer of St. Boniface students to a new school building.

Despite a number of merits outlined in the report, the WCDSB did meet with some resistance during its two public meetings. On March 20, 63 per cent of the turnout consisted of Maryhill residents against the change. Out of 45 comments submitted to the board, 36 called for St. Boniface to remain in Maryhill. On April 10, a smaller group of 32 showed up, with 67 per cent of Maryhill residents there arguing for the school to stay where it is.

“From our perspective it was a huge loss to the community,” said Wetzel of last week’s decision by the board.

Janek Jagiellowicz, who represents Waterloo, Wellesley and Woolwich, was the lone trustee to vote against the move at last week’s WCDSB meeting.

“The Catholic community in Maryhill and the relationship between the school and St. Boniface Church is incredibly strong, incredibly vibrant, and I see moving the school away from the church and the relationship to the church as the wrong move,” he said in a June 5 interview.

The board cited a number of benefits to a location in Breslau, not the least of which was financial convenience. In May 2012 the WCDSB filed a request for funding with the Ministry of Education to build a new school. An approval came back with an allotted $5.3 million for a 250-student school in the Breslau area. If a new St. Boniface were to remain close to its original location, the board would be forced to re-submit a business plan with no guarantee of approval from the province.

Wetzel disagreed with that assessment. She said her group of Maryhill residents received an e-mail from the ministry indicating that the funds were not conditional to the new school being built in Breslau. The group also argued that the board already had usable land on which to build in Maryhill: 10 acres on which the existing school currently stands. Residents were also unhappy with severing the school’s relationship with St. Boniface Church, where many students helped with services before and after classes.

The board report outlines population growth rates within the Breslau-Maryhill school boundary. Out of 689 students within the boundary, 377 Breslau kids make up 55 per cent of the student population versus only 10 per cent from Maryhill (67 kids), four per cent from rural south, 13 per cent from rural central and 19 per cent from rural north.

The decision made, the board has no timeline for the construction of a new building and the closure of St. Boniface in Maryhill.

“We are still in the process of acquiring a school site. Once that is complete and approved by the government we’ll have a better idea of how long it will take to open the school. I wouldn’t want to put a timeline on it until we have secured a site,” said WCDSB spokesman John Shewchuk.

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