In Pursuit of Memorial Collegiate High School

kingston, collegiate, vocational, institute, queen, elizabeth, kcvi, qecvi, limestone, district, school board, ontarioWith last Monday’s announcement that the Ministry of Education would provide $35 million to construct a consolidated secondary school in Kingston, one would think that supporters of the province’s oldest public school, Kingston Collegiate & Vocational Institute, might have been dealt a final, crushing blow.  As we’ve seen during the one-and-a-half-year-long campaign to ‘Save Our Schools’, community members seeking to keep KCVI downtown and QECVI uptown are not easily deterred by bad news and seemingly insurmountable odds.   From day one, the group’s organizers have rallied behind the notion that the Limestone District School Board’s Program and Accommodation Review (PARC) process was a “sham”, fraught with procedural blunders, bias and ulterior motives.

During the funding announcement, John Gerretsen, (retiring) MPP for Kingston and the Islands, stated that:

…the public has had the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns in many different ways.  If you do not like the decisions, you have an opportunity at every election to elect somebody else to make those decisions.

Supporters of KCVI and QECVI are now clinging to the hope that, if elected, the newly minted Provincial Liberal Party hopeful, Sophie Kiwala, will follow through on her promise to work towards reversing the closures and reallocating the funds to renovate the existing schools.  With our next date at the polls not until October of 2015 and the approximation that a new high school could be open as early as 2016/2017, the time available to engage corrective action is in short supply.

Although the location of Kingston’s yet to be built secondary school remains to be determined, Gerretsen was quick to pour a little more fuel on the debate that’s been raging for months:

I think it is indeed unfortunate that the city of Kingston council has taken one of the most obvious locations, to me, out of consideration. I would hope that city council will revisit that situation since I personally believe that the best place for such a new school would be the grounds of the Memorial Centre.

In light of the millions of taxpayer dollars that have gone into re-purposing and revitalizing the Memorial Centre grounds in recent years, including the aquatic facility, outdoor park and war memorial, as well as the successful farmer’s market, I can appreciate why City Council saw a need to send the ‘no vacancy’ message to the school board.  That said, a newly launched petition argues that the southwest corner of the Memorial Centre grounds may in fact be an ideal location for a secondary school due to existing bus routes, the availability of green space and the surrounding distribution of the student populations.  With Memorial Collegiate High School on the minds of many, this week’s poll asks:

[poll id=”205″]

What are your thoughts on the PARC process, and the decision to close both QE and KC? Are you in favour of a new, modernized and centrally located high school, or would you prefer renovation and preservation of existing facilities? Are the M-Centre grounds really our best option?  What sort of impact would a school have on the fantastic work that’s been done to re-purpose and revitalize the grounds?  Do you have a great idea as to where the new facility should be build? Drop off your comments below.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

30 thoughts on “In Pursuit of Memorial Collegiate High School

  • It seems bizarre to me that in this age of no-budget-for-anything, Kingston gets a new high school — and people protest! The Save Our Schools (translation: Save KCVI) group is a small but vocal and wealthy interest group that wants to protect their home prices and their exclusivity. They don't represent Kingston. If Kiwala wins and turns down or delays the building of this school, then she will be doing a big disservice to our city. Enough is enough — everyone has had had their say, the decision has been made, and it's time to grow up and move on.

    • You may want to get your information straight; I am a single mother of 2 teenagers who attend KCVI; KCVI is not the "wealthy" school everyone seems to think is so you may want to check out your source of information. There is nothing wrong with standing up for what we believe ….we have that right and will continue to exercise it.

      • Yes, and that poor sunshiner ($176,000) threatening legal action on P1 of Saturday's Whig to protect his entitlement is probably struggling to get by on his Queen's law faculty income.

    • Wow. Not sure if you've heard, but Ontario is in a lot of debt. So, building new schools (when it's been PROVEN that fixing up old schools is cheaper–in many cases) and spending millions and millions of dollars that we don't have, doesn't make sense financially right now. I am part of the KCVI community and I have not been vocal, up until now, and I resent the way KCVI parents and community members, as well as the Save Our Schools groups have been characterized. (BTW, most people don't realize how this type of divisive talk might have a negative effect on the QECVI student population. Think about it.) I am not wealthy. I have no "house price" or "exclusivity" to protect. However, like you (presumably) I am a tax payer and I also deserve a voice in this, just like anyone else. Just because people or groups of people are vocal and take a stand, they don't represent Kingston? Please! I put out a call to you–and the rest of the people commenting on social media about the KCVI community and the Save Our Schools group–to STOP the nonsense talk about "exclusivity" and "elitism". I think it's time for everyone "to grow up" and realize that EVERYONE has a voice, whether you agree with each other or not. Full disclosure: I am not necessarily in favour of keeping KCVI open. There are pros and cons to all scenarios. I'm just sick of the name-calling because one group is vocal and fighting for something they believe in. In my world, taking a stand IS being grown up.

    • I grew up in the area around Regi with a hand full of other students coming from single parent families. We walked to KCVI everyday, took 10 minutes in the summer and 15 minutes when it snowed. KCVI is a closer walk than QECVI and had a strong emphasis on academics and sports. We were accepted into the community with open arms.
      I am quite frankly disgusted with stereotypes and labelling of "Save Our Schools Group" as an "elitist" organization.
      They are thinking about our future students education, the future of our downtown, and trying to stop the creation of a bogus new school that does not need to be created.

  • Closing KCVI will hurt downtown. Valuable assets such as the auditorium (only one in Eastern Ontario) will be lost. Valuable partnerships with Queen's will be lost. Programs (IB) will be lost. History will be lost. A sensible sized school (900 students) will be replaced with a school that is too big for students from marginalized back grounds. The downtown residential neighbourhood will be decimated. Property prices are driven by student housing right now and frankly as a downtown worker but non downtown resident it won't do a thing either way for my property prices. So don't make sweeping statements. Once the City refuses to allow construction on the M centre (and we don't need a 1400 student school across from a 1200 student Catholic school) and builds on the QE land distant from downtown residential neighbourhoods and parental employment, enrolment will dip. Focus programs will be lost. The Board staff anticipate a loss of 50% of all focus programs no matter what. Then LCVI will continue to struggle – they have 600 students in a facility built for 1400. That building will continue to need $32 million work. Once parents figure that out, LCVI will continue to fail and will close. So we will end up with one school, stuffed to the brim, for then entire "old City" of Kingston and it will be far, far away from downtown and with inferior facilities as the Ministry of Education will not fund what is at KCVI already. So your kid wants a football field (there's one across the street from KCVI) my kid (and many many others) wants an auditorium that has been in use for generations. This is a neoliberal education agenda to reduce programs, buildings, jobs and opportunity. It is a crying shame.

  • I don't believe in disposable buildings or money trees. Use what we have to it's fullest extent. This new school won't be $35 million, it'll be 'paid for' through debt which means many millions more through interest payments. And what happens 25 years later when the debt is paid off, we knock it down and build another one?

    • Everything the province spends is through debt. The $1.5M + inflation staff savings of eliminating a principal, custodians etc will cover the entire cost of the new building over its lifetime. Before even considering the savings on renovating the old schools and selling KCVI.

      The only flaw with this is it should have been done many years ago

  • I am heartbroken by the decision to close KCVI. My first choice would be to use the provincial funding for renovations. If a consolidated school must be built it should not be on the Memorial Centre grounds. The idea that a super school could be tucked in the Southwest corner of the M Centre site without infringing on the surrounding park and community space is absurd. It would take over the site and create traffic and congestion that the small, surrounding streets could not accommodate. Also, we must respect the contractual agreement between the city and the Kingston and District Agricultural Society, to whom the barns belong. That land is simply not available. Finally, Williamsville is already underserviced in terms of parks and recreation facilities and losing even part of the M Centre would be devastating to this community and the city as a whole. The construction of a school on this site would be a waste of the fifteen million dollars paid by all taxpayers in the city of Kingston.

  • The research is clear, the experts have spoken. Shiny large consolidated schools do not save money and do not serve students as well as smaller neighbourhood schools. The research is here:
    Building brand new schools to replace perfect sound existing schools that, with minor upgrades, could serve Kingston for decades to come does not make any fiscal sense.

    Stop cross bussing kids from one neighbourhood with a publicly funded school to another publicly funded school farther away. Rescind denominational school rights as Quebec and Newfoundland did in the 1990s. Stop the insanity of building public and Catholic schools side-by-side, making it impossible to shorten commutes and get more kids walking to school and off the busses.

  • Lived through this debate in the US where the school board wanted to build a big, shiny new school with capacity for 3000. The response from parents (and supported by research) was a resounding no. No because children would get lost in the crowd, other schools would not be interested in competing against sports teams where only the elite were able to participate (to say nothing of the morale of students within the school unable to make the various teams), a student body so large that no one knew their classmates and teachers who didn't know their students. I moved back to Kingston precisely so my sons could attend KCVI. I am not rich or elitist – I am a single mother who knows what constitutes a good school and an exceptional educational experience. Neither one is defined by a structure with all the bells and whistles but by the community wherein it resides and within its walls. The school board and the Ministry have made a decision they will regret in the years to come.

  • Unless we read the same words differently, Kiwala promised to look at options and wanted to find out whether funding a renovation was possible, that's all. It would appear that whatever happens, and where it happens is the LDSB's decision. Suspect there's nothing much, Gerretsen, Kiwala or the City can do to influence a decision that was probably taken last year.

    • I don't think the Kiwala quote is misleading. 'Save our Schools' has it listed as: "Ontario Liberal candidate Sophie Kiwala says that if elected she will work to redirect the funds allocated for a new school to renovations of the existing schools". Sounds like a firm commitment to me.

          • Nope, not a know-it-all, so please explain how a back bench MPP (if Kiwala and the liberals get elected) is going to manage to "work to redirect the funds allocated for a new school to renovations of the existing schools"? There's that tiny matter of local school board and ministry of education jurisdiction and two years of public consultation.

          • So then, from your perspective it’s a matter of whether or not she can follow through on her promise, rather than whether or not she made the promise in the first place? I would tend to agree that her chances may be slim to putting the breaks on this, but perhaps she can be of some assistance.

          • She made the promise and she has no ability to deliver on it. So, either she was deliberately blowing smoke or she hasn't got a clue. Not sure what's worse.

  • The Memorial Centre is an excellent location for a modern community school that would positively benefit the recent public investment in the grounds. The existing barns and gravel track are functionally obsolete and offer little benefit to the community on a routine basis. Unfortunately the arena is far too much building to maintain for one ice surface. This type of facility was replaced by the Krock Centre and it is time to close down this financial liability that is the M Centre rink. As a resident of Williamsville I can't understand why we would not want this huge provincial investment in our community. A high school at the M Centre is geographically central both in terms of access from communities north and south but also central from a socio-economic perspective connecting the north and south neighbrouhoods. My grandfather was a graduate of KCVI in the 1930's and while the school is a soft spot for many long term kingstonians, Kingston often makes poor decisions based on looking backwards and not forwards. It seems a new school is likely the reality; let's rally around this important community investment and make sure it is done right. Imagine a $35M investment in shared educational and community spaces at the M Centre. The students could take advantage of the pool and learn to swim. Improved sports facilities and social/educational facilities would knit the downtown communities together. I have seen schools in the USA the function as shared public/school facilities. These types of schools can be an amazing investment in the community and QECVI and KCVI currently fail to provide these benefits based on the age of the schools, lack of facilitates available, and the non-central location for both north and south central neighbourhoods. Don't worry about KCVI; Queen's will buy it and do a fabulous job of renovating it and it would still function as a quasi-public space as a public university. It is time to consider the best option for the next 100 years for Kingston' central neighbourhoods and the M centre could become a much more important feature of the community. The rink will not survive indefinitely as it is becoming too costly to maintain and the barns and gravel track are an eyesore and in desperate need of renewal.

  • The decision is hardly cast in stone. It is just a last ditch cash grab attempt by some very outgoing incumbents.The next election will hinge on it, and already those who support maintaining and growing our existing schools are winning nominations.

    That 35M is all debt. Construction budgets usually double, interest will double it again, and currency manipulation will add another 20%, so that's almost ~200M money pit (nearly 1/4 of a billion).

    I agree that this kind of unnecessary spending during a time of austerity is myopic and cynical. When times improve (as they always do) we are going to need these schools where exactly they are.

  • Don't be fooled by the "let's choose the super school site" redirection of the conversation. Saving KCVI is not only possible it is essential. As one commenter said in the comments of a recent Whig letter: "The likeliest outcome is a new school is built at QE, so nothing changes for those students. some of the KCVI students go back to the schools they already live close to" That is what the school board wants – note that they got $35 million (they needed $37 million if there was a land purchase involved) – no need to cooperate with anyone and a more powerful disincentive to folks inclined to send their kids downtown from the suburbs. This fills up their suburban schools, reduces the enrolment for focus programs and allows them to close them and allows the rapid closure of LCVI. Imagine that the super school on the QECVI land is the only school in Central Kingston. People who live in the LCVI neighbourhood who have been feeling very comfortable should think about this quite carefully. They are not quite as safe as they think they are.

    • How is it the new school with 1100 is a "super school", while KC with almost the same number not a super school? The existing schools all would have been "super schools" before enrollment fell so much by your definition

  • And again, I feel that another significant error of judgement has been made with the announcement of the new super school in Kingston. I recall the municipal amalgamation process of the Harris era which punished the smaller more frugal communities for their forethought and fiscal restraint delivering governance in a business like manner. Many municipalities managed substantial financial reserves, maintained lucrative utilities that created surpluses and delivering timely services. There was a pride of ownership and a reward for a job well done. The weight of arrogant provincial direction fell upon us and we prepared to fight to retain the autonomy and self governance that served our community well. Every viable solution presented was met with the cost cutting rhetoric of a policy designed by decision makers too far removed from its electorate. "Do it or it will be done for you" was the was the direction from the province,, not too unlike being told to cut off your own hand or it will be done for you! Many of the "victim communities" have spent years adapting to this direction while their voices have fallen silent, and their communities succumb to a cultural decay. I have tried to temper my hostility for this decision with the idea that my struggle is with change and not a progressive direction as was suggested by the presiding government at the time. Over time perhaps I have developed a strong suspicion of the motivation, but I believe I have developed a certain wisdom from experience that I thought may have eluded me. We have experienced civil management by ill prepared individuals, touting experience by virtue of the position that they hold. The foundation of their decisions is based on a notion of what they think as opposed to what they know and is reinforced with an arrogant dismissal of public opinion. This is the climate that has been set in public governance for several decades, and it is now manifesting itself in the problems that exist now.

    When the PARC process was presented my heart fell, I witnessed the optimism and fight of many accomplished people who support and believe in the democratic process, a process that ensures we can affect change with hard work, strong values, clear ethics and civic responsibility. Opponents to the school closures presented viable and selfless solutions to the problem, and again the direction had already been determined and their fight hit an impenetrable wall. The Question was asked of the PARC, If we funded the necessary repairs to the infrastructure that has been neglected for nearly 30 years, would this have any bearing on the process? If the tax payer with vested interest in our community paid again to bring our schools up to the standards that we trusted you to maintain, could we please keep our heritage, our heart and our school. I can't help but think that given the undeniable evidence from other political blunders and reports stating that amalgamation is not a solution for providing effective schooling, that a super school was not the best or only solution. Super schools do not breed scholars but tangible social costs. I suggest that our school board has exhibited weak governance and short sited civic conscience. It is apparent that they have allowed our future to be "nickel and dimed" into a position where they are powerless to protect and serve the community they swore to represent. The province provides money for new schools but not maintenance, do we need a new school or new "skilled" governance. Poor management has impacted the success of our community and the success of our children. Will the new school be capped at 35 million or will the overruns present further cost to our community?

    The Loss of KCVI and QECVI is yet another brick broken in the wall that keeps our home strong. This community will weaken, It will succumb to the encroachment of student rentals forcing out families and ultimately destroying the remaining architecture and heritage that made Kingston Beautiful. Prove me wrong, but I see more garbage and pressure treated porches on the ancestral homes of the people who built this city with pride and hope for its future. Kingston is becoming a dormitory for Queens and our community is the next to fall to those profiting from our demise.

    I am very disappointed.

  • One of the biggest problems with this debate is that the government has not done enough to represent the voices of students. They are citizens of this country and, while they do not have a vote, their views are important and should be represented in the democratic process.They are, afterall, the most important stakeholders in the education system. I would be surprised if young people wanted to ride crowded buses to schools, lose their positions on sports teams, face increased levels of cyberbullying because of increased anonymity in the school, lose academic programs such as IB that prepare them with competitive skills for universities, and sit in large classes where it is hard to concentrate etc. I would be shocked if Kingston students in any of the schools would support this approach to education.

    Article 12 of the The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children's views should be taken into account in all matters affecting them and that their views should be given due weight. I have not been closely following the PARC process but if the Ministry of Education and the Board has not given due weight to the views of children, they have shirked their obligations under the Convention – a treaty which Canada has ratified. There has been legal action in other Ministries in Canada using this principle. Perhaps, the Ministry of Education and the Board need to be challenged in the same manner.

  • What if: higher level of learning (assume Queens) meets ground source level of learning (read 'VIs); they exist in partnership with common purpose and shared goals?
    What if: parents of same contribute to our (community) schools with real-time volunteer support and funding assistance – in times of peace as well as in times of war – just like we ask of our children to do!
    What if: the students (hang on, not the students, they’re too busy and not old enough to know about this stuff yet!) the alumni… of same, supported their school (Alma mater) proud of the opportunities offered, the education obtained and the fellowships formed – if not for self but others.
    What if: we all lived out loud, the actions of our words; the result of our intent; the passion of our desire?
    What if: we all spoke out for what we trust is right, for the world we yearn for – our love; our values?
    What if we declared a desire and made the effort to work together for the sake of all of our children?
    What if you knew that this, of what we speak, is our children’s’ inheritance and our legacy?
    See you at the meeting_

  • I have worked for the government for over 32 years. “New” is rarely as valuable as good enough. New is always best when it replaces something that doesn’t work well enough, and is always problematic when it replaces something that aready works well. Our downtown schools are better than good enough; in some aspects they are excellent. They just need the maintenance that has been denied for too many years. They are in good locations, and serve their taxpaying citizens very well. A new school is political smoke and mirrors for failures in education policies, and will not be anything except “new”.

    I’m tired of governments that spend my money as if there is an endless supply, especially when it is in pursuit of “new”, when it should be supporting good enough, and especially when the old is better than good enough. I don’t care what motivates the Save Our Schools people, I agree with them because they understand that there is nothing to be gained by closing the current schools, but much to be lost and tax dollars to be wasted.

  • The "no, we should use the QE or KC grounds" option should have been split in two. I vote no, and I would like to see the school built on the existing QE grounds. I think that's a better site than the Memorial Center, which is already being used as it should. I note that a lot of the KC kids are currently bused in (I don't know what percent), so don't see a problem with busing to a new school at QE. I also support the decision to build a new school, and believe that the excellent programs and staff of both QE and KC can be transferred to a new school. I also like the idea of mixing kids from the downtown and north end, and think it will be good for both.

  • Its all been said above, but ill put my name down for save our schools, I'm a builder who has spent 30 years renovating old buildings because it is not only less expensive than new, but most people don't throw away their old house when it needs repairs ( and they usually keep up those repairs ) but also old buildings especially well built ones have many qualities that people enjoy and they simply love to live in and in this case to learn in. Last week I was enjoying a drink at the Red Door Pub and I asked my friend , why is there no popular pub in a new building downtown, such as the Royal Block? you know the answer because we as humans enjoy being surrounded by history, character and the feeling of security of a solid stone or
    brick building! ( I think this whole farce is a downtown vs suburban mindset )
    this is only one reason out of many,and they have all been laid out by SOS and others, but I feel we are being screwed by this out of town school board and they are not being overseen properly by our provincial government either.

  • Student of KCVI and friend of students at QE. I know no many adults are aware, but as students many of us will not be attending the super school. We'd rather go to a different highschool, even if that means waking up an extra 30 minutes. All the government will find in their "new school" is empty hallways, and a great waste of $35 million.

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