Two new schools for Brampton in province’s multi-billion dollar education stimulus plan
On Thursday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce was in Brampton carrying welcome news. Flanked by Premier Doug Ford, Mayor Patrick Brown and the city’s pair of Progressive Conservative MPPs, he confirmed two new schools will be built in the area.
The new education infrastructure was announced as part of a funding boost for school boards across Ontario. The province promised roughly $500 million to build 30 new schools and expand 15 more this year. A media release states the move will support more than 25,000 additional student spaces.
In Peel, the majority of the good news falls in Brampton’s lap. Two new facilities will be constructed in the city and one more will be expanded. In Mississauga, Thomas Street Middle School will have an addition built onto it creating 138 new spaces.
Two of the funding announcements will benefit Peel District School Board (PDSB) and two are for French school boards.
The name of one of Brampton’s two new schools has been confirmed and is based on a figure designed to inspire students, Ford explained at a Thursday media conference.
The Premier used Pte Buckam Singh Public School (currently under construction) as an example of the naming process for new buildings. Singh was one of the first Canadian-Sikhs to fight in World War One and a suitable role model in an area such as Brampton, where Canadian and Sikh heritage come together.
One of the newly announced schools will be named after another South Asian hero.
“Role models like Malala Yousafzai, a brave activist for girls’ education in Pakistan and an honorary Canadian,” Ford said during the announcement. “Her name will also soon be on the front of a brand new school right near Queen Mary Drive and Remembrance Road.”
According to Brampton West MPP Amarjot Sandhu, construction on the new schools will begin this year. It is not clear exactly when they will open their doors to students.
“We have an opportunity to not only rebuild everything we have lost to this pandemic, but to build for the future. We have to start laying the foundations now for our long-term prosperity. It starts with our young people,” he said. “This year, we are getting shovels in the ground on three new school projects in Brampton [two schools, one expansion], schools that will meet the needs of our growing community and ensure students and teachers get access to modern classrooms.”
Brampton West MPP Amarjot Sandhu (centre), Brampton South MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria (second from right) and Premier Doug Ford (right), meet with residents in Brampton this week.
The initial investment of $500 million in 2020 is part of a plan by the province over the next decade to hand out $12 billion for new facilities across Ontario. The Ministry of Education says this year’s funds will also provide just under 900 additional childcare spaces as well as modern classrooms.
Speaking in Brampton Friday, Andrea Horwarth, NDP and Official Opposition leader, told The Pointer the new schools were a re-announcement. "I have been talking to folks here in Peel Region and it's quite clear these two schools are schools that were already announced by the Liberals,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said Malala Yousafzai Public School had been announced by PDSB in 2019, but Thursday’s event represented its first greenlight for funding and construction.
“In growing communities like Brampton, we need shovels in the ground now to build a strong foundation for our children’s future,” Ford said. “The investments we make today will set our students down the path for lifelong success.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was also in Brampton this week.
Ford’s reference to Brampton’s rapid growth is no understatement and, in recent years, school construction has not kept up. Between 2011 and 2016 (the most recent census data available) the city added 69,732 residents, many of them young families. Ever increasing growth has put serious pressure on many services such as policing, affordable housing and schools.
Provincial population targets and planning goals show growth is only going to accelerate in the years to come. By 2041, Peel will need to accommodate a projected 500,000 additional new residents and 250,000 new jobs.
As part of the region’s expansion, Brampton is expected to boom.
Both Brampton and Mississauga have majority immigrant populations, fueled partly by their proximity to Toronto Pearson Airport. This makes the two cities a popular destination for young families looking to build a life in Canada, increasing the number of new students flowing into the region. The dynamic can also add pressure to local schools as extra help may be required for students in their early years if they do not speak English as a first language.
Brampton’s well documented struggle with unregistered secondary units is another factor responsible for overcrowding in local schools. Basement units rented without council, school board or government knowledge can mean significantly more residents in an area than planners expect or prepare for, putting pressure on local schools. The issue is one the Ford government is familiar with, after Brampton Councillor Jeff Bowman wrote to the Premier in April 2019 begging for help regulating the units after a tragic fire.
The difficulty in preparing educational facilities for students was illustrated last year, when the government underestimated school demand by thousands. For the 2019-2020 school year, the province received around 7,400 students more than it was expecting, diluting the funding it had made available per learner.
As a result, portable and temporary classrooms are a common sight in Peel Region.
In 2019, Brampton’s St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School, near Torbram Road and Central Park Drive, had 22 portables to house about a third of the school’s 1,937 students. At St. John Fisher Elementary School, there were 10 portables.
Portables are a common sight around Brampton schools.
"It is unacceptable that too many schools in our province continue to lack the investment that our students deserve," Minister Lecce said. "That is why this government is making a significant investment to build new schools, to extensively renovate existing schools, and expand access to licensed childcare spaces in our province. Our government is modernizing our schools, our curriculum, and the delivery of learning, to ensure students are set up to succeed in an increasingly changing world."
The announcement of new and revamped schools comes as the 2020-21 school year remains shrouded in mystery. School boards, including PDSB, are preparing for three separate teaching scenarios (in class, hybrid or fully digital), unable to tell parents what to expect when September rolls around and the school year begins.
Lecce has promised more details next week, but in a meeting with local media in Mississauga on Thursday, he admitted the ever-changing picture meant full clarity was unlikely.
“I don’t think [online and blended learning] is my preferred option, I don’t think it’s anyone’s preferred option, but it is an option,” Lecce told reporters. “If public health says, in 60 days, we are going to reduce the amount of people that can be in a space down to 15 [it is currently 50 for areas in Stage 3], now we have a plan that’s been negotiated with the unions collective agreements, with the school boards, and we’re ready to go.”
It is also unclear if the province’s regional approach to reopening will be applied to school boards or if schools in Thunder Bay, for example, will be under the same regulations as those in Peel, Toronto or York.
Despite the questions continuing to dog Ontario’s education system, politicians and parents in Peel will be relieved to see more brick and mortar classrooms for their children.
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