Connaught: One Parent Has Had O’Nough

A lot of people are livid with the Regina Board Of Education’s decision earlier this week to close Connaught school. The disagreement isn’t so much that the building is either currently or imminently unfit — everyone agrees (I think) on that. The problem is that a lot of people in the community believe the board made up its mind years ago to get rid of another old school (see also: Herchmer), and it achieved this goal NOT through open debate on the merits of a particular vision but through deliberate stalling on repairs that ignored pleas to salvage the building.

The perception is, then, that anti-Connaught board members knew they might lose a fair fight so they got their way through sabotage.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But that’s the perception.

Anyway,  Facebook and Twitter wrath has been white-hot. Earlier this week, O’Hanlon’s pub owner Niall O’Hanlon, who has kids at the school, wrote a blistering condemnation of the board’s decision.

With permission, I’m reprinting an edited version — toned down, at Niall’s request.

Dear School Board,

I’m just home from the March 25 board meeting I attended with my daughter. My anger and disgust regarding Ecole Connaught is indescribable.

The lack of transparency and accountability that public school board and administration have shown in this situation is amazing. I knew the day that “temporary options” were presented to us that you’d already selected Wascana School, as this was the cheapest and easiest for you. However, tonight you pretended to listen, as that is what’s expected of public officials.

That you sat there and listened to those presentations, all along having predetermined your course of action, is hypocritical.

I will not allow the incompetence of the Regina Board of Education to negatively affect my family any longer. You can take the O’Hanlon children off your busing plans for September 2014 as they will be moving to Ecole St. Pius next school year. I will contact the City of Regina first thing tomorrow morning to start the process of changing my school tax designation ($1500.00 per year) to the separate school board,  as I will not contribute another cent to any of your salaries or expenses. I will also encourage my family and friends to do the same.

I’m sure none of you entered your profession aspiring to make life difficult for children and their families. But take a hard look at where you have arrived, as that is where we see you at.

Don’t feel the need to respond, as the public school board chapter in my family’s lives officially ended March 25, 2014.

Niall O’Hanlon
Regina

Regina Board of Education trustees and administration know they’ve pissed off Cathedral activists and don’t seem to care. Maybe they’ll care that they’ve angered a popular and successful local business owner.

Then again, maybe driving off engaged parents is exactly what they want to achieve.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth will never, ever pass up a chance to make a Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo pun.

27 thoughts on “Connaught: One Parent Has Had O’Nough”

  1. We share Niall’s outrage! Even those of us without kids have considered moving our taxes!!

    As for the state of the building, at the previous meeting, a heritage conservationist pointed out that many of the physical problems of the building were caused by inappropriate repairs done by the School Board itself- pressure washing the limestone foundation, removing the cornices and exposing the soft brick, etc. But let’s just look at the money and what actually needed to be fixed, and how the figure tripled within a month. It was NOT the deterioration of the school that caused these numbers to jump.

    The, while the community was working hard to raise $10, 000, or half the cost of repairs as we were told last month, new repair costs of $67, 000 were suddenly announced, including $25,00 for “unforeseen/emergency repairs” and $15,000 for Kenyon inspection for one year.

    According to the Kenyon report of February 2013, to make Connaught school safe for children for one more year,it must: fix the exterior crack on South-East Corner ($10,000); repoint brick ($5,000); fix holes in Boiler Room ($5000); fix broken and bulging tiles in Nutrition Room and Wise Owl Room on Main floor and broken floor slab in Gym, side door ($5000), close off front stairs ($1,000) and cover mechanical shaft on the floor below the roof ($1,000). These repairs seem rather minor, with most of the money spent the on exterior, rather than the classrooms.

    Still, $67,000 is still cheaper than $1.4 million to repair Wascana School, plus bus costs (40,000 to 400,000).

    Another independent survey by BBK, commissioned by the Regina Public School Board in August 2013, states that, with repairs, Connaught would be safe for 10 more years. Unfortunately, this second report was not given to the insurance company, when the Regina Public School Board requested the review, in which the decision was made to no longer insure the school. This all seems to be a lot of twisted manipulation!

    To destroy an historic building recognized by Heritage Canada, to not use and re-use what we have , is both culturally, historically, and ecologically irresponsible. It is cruel to disrupt students and families, when a sensible and cheaper solution is evident.

    It is the upset to the daily lives of the families which is the most stressful. The Regina Public School Board has already upset the Eastview neighbourhood, just at the moment of its renewal, by closing Haultain School; now those where children have to sit on a bus for an hour one way to get to school. Closing Dieppe and Athabasca just as the city is going through a boom seems to have been very short-sighted.

    This more costly and disruptive ‘solution’ is ill-considered and disrespectful of all comments heard during the ‘consultations’ of the last two years. The second solution proposed, Athabasca/Sheldon was not even one of the options even on the survey!

  2. Kudos to Mr. O’Hanlon for not being afraid to let his name stand behind such an important public issue. Seven years ago this month, I was in the exact same boat as many of these parents, and feel the frustration for everyone impacted by the School Board’s decisions.

    I strongly, strongly encourage anyone who wants to stand up for our tax dollars to do just that. Join us on MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2014 at HIGH NOON in front of CITY HALL. We need to remind City Hall, the School Board, and the Provincial Government just who they work for. We need to remind them that INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYERS are just as important as corporate taxpayers. In fact, if it weren’t for individuals and small business owners, such as Mr. O’Hanlon, much of Regina wouldn’t be in existence this very day!

    It’s TIME, Ladies and Gentlemen, to MARCH AGAINST CORRUPTION!! This kind of thing needs to stop. We need to stand up for our rights. We need to demonstrate that we do not want to see our tax dollars wasted like this. Continually catering to the construction and development industry is getting us nowhere but further into debt at the cost of heritage. It’s getting the rich richer, the former-poor filthy-rich (illegally), and is pitting taxpayers against each other.

    JOIN US REGINA – In front of City Hall on Monday, March 31, 2014 at HIGH NOON!!! You, too, can stand for what you believe in, and DEMAND that your tax dollars are respected at every level of government in our great City.

    Find out more at chad4regina.com!!!

  3. One that doesn’t add up to me is this: Why would anyone want to tear down a school and build a new one on the same site if the price tag for each option is not that different?
    The article in the L-P the other day about this had a tone of “oh well, let’s stop being sentimental, and let it go….. everyone will be able to go back in about four years”. Um, except that four years is about half the time a kid would spend in elementary school, so that’s kind of, um, a major life-course-altering disruption for all those kids. Who’s going to want to go back? Not many, I would guess. Although people would probably rather have their kids going to school in Cathedral than the ‘hood, I would guess…. but most of those people will probably just switch to the separate school board or send their kids to french/immersion elsewhere in the city.

  4. Hmmm. As much as I dislike the idea of funding the Catholic School Board, I’m tempted to follow Mr. O’Hanlon’s lead.

  5. The last comment, with its reference to attending a school “in the ‘hood”, demands a reply. To characterize Wascana School as being “in the ‘hood” is racism, pure and simple. It is also factually incorrect. A lot of First Nations families sent their children to Wascana to get them away from bad influences: a form of flight from North central, if you want to put it that way. Just because a school has a high percentage of First Nations students does not automatically make it part of “the ‘hood” — unless, of course, you’re a racist.
    Besides, with the opening of the new Seven Stones School this fall, Wascana will be empty and thus able to accommodate 300+ students, so you need not worry that your children will be “contaminated” by classroom contact.

    As to moving taxes and children to the Catholic Separate system, that will only work if you’re Catholic. You might want to check provincial legislation on this.

    It’s interesting that people who deplore the existence in Saskatchewan of a dual system of public education, with its provision for a religious education, are so very quick to attempt to use that system to their own advantage when the opportunity arises. Cynical and hypocritical as well as racist.

  6. Having no vested interest in the closing of L’Ecole Connaught, as even my grandchildren have only a year left in the gradeschool system, i wholeheartedly applaud those who have continued to keep this issue in front of the public eye. This situation reaches far beyond the individual angst of the families directly affected by the closing of the community school.

    How odd it is that a city that touts its dedication to improving access to education and retaining its heritage would choose to damage both in one broad stroke while other viable options remain. In an era where transparency is actively sought, one would think that all of the details used to determine the board’s course of action would be openly discussed throughout the process instead of spitting them out defensively as rising tide of public opinion demanded answers.

    Perhaps the only fortunate aspect of the Public School Board’s tawdry and purposeful manipulation of pubicized information regarding the actual status of the building is to bring to light the longterm irresponsible and high handed behaviour of the members of the Public School Board.

    When is the next election?

  7. “As to moving taxes and children to the Catholic Separate system, that will only work if you’re Catholic.”

    Citation needed. You made the claim. It’s incumbent on you to back it.

    “It’s interesting that people who deplore the existence in Saskatchewan of a dual system of public education”

    Who would that be?

    “Cynical and hypocritical as well as racist.”

    Get over yourself.

  8. “As to moving taxes and children to the Catholic Separate system, that will only work if you’re Catholic.”

    Our family is not Catholic and our taxes and children are well ensconced in the Separate system, and have been for years. The RCSD’s Board of Trustees have and continue to be approachable and reasonably transparent, whether as individuals or a group: this has been our family’s experience, at least.

  9. anonymusses: perhaps it was easier to do this in the past, but I would caution anyone who wants to go this route now to be careful of the possibility of a challenge on the grounds of false declaration. Again, it’s worth your while to check with the authorities as to exactly what is entailed in a tax declaration.

  10. Let’s remember, in the middle of this debate, to thank School Trustees Carla Beck and Kathleen O’Reilly, who have tried hard to speak up for children, history, culture and neighbourhhoods!!

    A Big Thank YOU, Carla and Kathleen!!! We know that it has been a very hard time for you, especially Carla, who has introduced motion upon motion to allow structural testing, and to try to offer more open solutions to combat hastily made decisions, motions which have been defeated over and over again, by the other 5 trustees.

    Let us remember that School Trustees Katherine Gagné, Aleana Young, Jane Akong, Dale West, and Cindy Anderson are willfully rejecting the views of the community, upsetting a walkable neigbourhood (again!- remember Haultain, remember Athabasca, Dieppe, Usher!) and will not allow scientific conservationist experts in to do structural testing, at no cost to the Regina Public School Board!!!

    The March 17th Kenyon report to Ron Christie states that “No analysis of the structure or test has been performed as part of these inspections.” reports which have been the basis (or so we are told) of the decisions.

  11. Jeff Johnson – Regarding your legitimate question: “Why would anyone want to tear down a school and build a new one on the same site if the price tag for each option is not that different?”

    The only answer I can provide for you is to look at whom our current Mayor and City Council are. Along with whom they associate with, as well as the Provincial Government. All of these will point you to the utter disdain for heritage in the name of anything construction or development related. When you have multi-million dollar companies financing your election campaigns (Municipal, Provincial and School Board – go ahead and read their campaign donation disclosures, they’re all online), you kind of feel obligated to pay them back in one form or another.

    Of course this is HIGHLY unethical, and most certainly questionable in terms of violations of many existing laws, including the Canadian Criminal Code. The only question is – when is enough going to be enough to get the public to raise pitchforks (not literally) and demand these elected officials start being accountable for those who truly pay their salaries? WE NEED LEGISLATION in order to PREVENT this kind of thing from happening. They do it because they “can”, no matter how unethical it is. No matter how skirting of the current laws it is. Until they are caught, they will and do get away with it. If it weren’t for a select few coming forward from the PC scandals of the 90’s, they would have gotten off scott free.

  12. Our most recent enrollment was in 2010. We did have an interview with our school’s principal, and I do believe it was at his discretion to allow our children to enroll; our family does attend church on a regular basis, so admittedly this may have been taken into account.

    I have no knowledge of any challenge to a personal school tax declaration in this city. Our family’s experience is that an institutionally-accepted procedure of case-by-case consideration is given credence over an allegiance to a beneficiary designation on a tax form.

  13. anonymusses: you may not know of any challenges; I do. As to principal discretion, it operates within certain parameters, one of which is the priority of Catholic students over non-Catholic ones at school registration time. There may have been extra space in your particular school in 2010, but that may not be the case for all Catholic schools 4 years on, so people should do their homework thoroughly before taking steps or making assumptions.

    On the meta-level, there has long been contention over the dual system. The public system can and must accept any student of any denomination or none; the Catholic Separate system, legislated into place by the act that brought Saskatchewan and Alberta into Confederation, was meant for Catholic students. The tax rolls were also divided along public/Catholic lines. Since 1904-05, there have been court cases and challenges in regard to tax designation, and many arguments that for Catholic schools to accept non-Catholic students is to go against their mandate as originally set by law. Dr. John Conway, long-time former RBE Trustee and Board Chair, has argued this for years. He is on record on many occasions as saying that the separate denominational system, though constitutional, is obsolete and wasteful of resources. The Saskatchewan School Boards Association, while acknowledging the constitutionality of the dual system, has strongly argued that that constitutional right has been misused and abused for funding and other purposes.

  14. “These sections of the Education Act, 1995 translate into policy in
    various ways. For example, St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Separate School
    Division policy regarding non-Catholic children states,

    ‘Non-Catholic children whose parents or guardians reside in Saskatoon will be
    permitted to register providing:
    a) They meet the age and academic requirements for admission.
    b) Their parents or guardians complete the necessary documentation indicating that their children will participate in the formal religious instruction offered at the school.'” (pp.303-4)

    I’m sure that this 56-page document could be cherry-picked for supporting a number of differing points, but to return to the original contention: there are indeed provisos for non-Catholics in separate school systems.

  15. The term “cherrypicked” is right on the money, and what floats in St. Paul’s RCSSD may not float in Regina, which is why you should check carefully instead of assuming.

  16. Yes Dieppe school closed & now ,( for the last 2 yrs ), about 6 different first student buses coming in all around 4pm, to drop off what seems to be; just guessing …20? kids..

    Why couldn’t the building be used as a , “sattellite” RPL branch ???
    Featuring a; gym / playground / lake / bike path / football pitch … plus it received a new roof 3? yrs ago.. books like that..

    Just a thought..

  17. Ron: the idea of the former Dieppe School being used as a branch of the RPL is a good one. The west side of Regina is desperately under-served by the RPL; this is something that library boards have recognized for years, but could do little about. The only problem I can see, and which would undoubtedly be one of the first objections raised by a RPL board, would be parking: there just isn’t enough for staff or for patrons. And yes, it’s on a bus route, but that makes no difference.

    As to the buses, unless they have “Regina Public Schools” on the sides, they’re from the Catholic Separate system, which buses a high proportion of its students. French Immersion catchment areas are larger than individual school catchments, so you may be seeing those buses as well. Plus, you may be seeing all buses at or near the end of their runs.

  18. From Jeanie Mah -“Another independent survey by BBK, commissioned by the Regina Public School Board in August 2013, states that, with repairs, Connaught would be safe for 10 more years. ”
    I looked at the BBK report, and it actually says that the structure is greatly undersized, the original designers did not understand the nature of failure in concrete construction, its under reinforced, and based on the era, has a low factor of safety. It also says observations do not vary with past investigations. It goes on to say the entire building needs to be GUTTED and the costs will be similar to a new build. The school has a “limited life expectancy of 10 years”. So be straight with people, it is pretty clear it does not say it will be “safe” anywhere in the report.
    And you have no kids at risk here, right? I guess it wasn’t the second opinion you wanted after all.

  19. The BBK report differed in that it found the footings and brick exterior walls sufficient, and recommended just one slab, the basement slab, be replaced,while the other slabs could be reinforced. (New footings and slab replacements on all floors had been the major costs in the original renovation estimate, pushing a reno over the cost of new.)

    It further stated that in the absence of structural tests, the current slab reinforcement was unknown – therefore the report was forced to assume they were under-reinforced. The community called for structural tests to be conducted, to determine the actual reinforcement level, but this was refused by the board.

    The report did agree with Kenyon’s observations about the building’s current condition – but it also laid out 5 steps for repair. And it stated in the conclusion, “We have noted no safety items except at the original front entrance which has been dealt with.”

    The logical thing at this point would have been to carry out the structural tests and, with the information (as opposed to guesswork), cost out the recommended repairs and provide more than one option for people to review. Unfortunately, the administration and five of seven trustees were adamantly opposed to this, which was enough to block what should have been a logical, reasonable action for informed decision-making.

  20. No, again with the twisting, it says they are of sufficient size, not that they were in suitable condition. It also says the slab is to thin and that inadequate reinforcing was used in structures of that era. This is apparent in the “large deflections in beams and slabs”. This refers to the ground floor, the concrete is thinner at the roof. “This slab is significantly undersized ans has a very low factor of safety.”
    No where in the report does it suggest more studies should be done.
    And it dies say, as part of the recommendations, “We wish to point out that these recommendations will most probably require a complete demolition, including interior finishes, interior partitions, mechacnical distribution, electrical distribution…..” That Trixie, is a complete gut. Oh, and it says you need to dig out the entire foundation to water proof, and can’t explain the 2’gaping hole in the foundation.
    True, it does say at the end that there are no safety issues but the front entrance, which is what the School Board said too. So the building is safe for kids now, “although
    functioning at the present time requires a major upgrading and retrofit of structural systems.
    It does give a longer possible time frame, but warns of and increased likelyhood of failure”
    Seems like testing would tell you what? The reinforcing is smooth bars, typical of the age, there won’t be enough of them. The slabs are too thin and are cracked, the foundations are disintegrating, the footings have moved, the outside walls are cracked. A test tells you what exactly? That the building will miraculously not need the work this consultant says as well.
    Waiting leave kids at risk, ever heard of Elliot Lake.

  21. Well, a test would settle the truth of the matter. So, why not? The building conservators said it can be done in 6 hours. If we are waiting until June anyway, why not? There is no increased risk to gaining this knowledge.

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  23. Can the Connaught people help me explain the uproar in a more digestable way? I’m more of a casual observer, so maybe I’m not seeing the same big picture.

    Earlier when this was brewing, I looked into it. And with good reason, I certainly don’t automatically trust the city or the board of education, nor did I believe them when they previously said the decision they seemed to have prepped was anything but inevitable. And I don’t even necessarily believe every inspector or construction assessment that comes along either.

    However at the time I saw the pictures and read the report. The building did seem dangerously damaged and cost prohibitive to fix. I imagined that if I were sitting on a board, and we ordered an independent report that came back with such scary response, my first instinct would be to protect the building occupants and get them out of there quickly.

    Now apparently there’s another report that is slightly different, but still says immediate repairs are needed and the remaining life of the building is really short.

    I even got some anecdotal hearsay that one of the report’s engineers has a wife who works in the building and lives nearby and she would love for it to remain open, but he simply can’t sanction that for safety reasons. Could be pure gossip of course.

    Busing children to school in a dense city seems inefficient, dangerous, and harmful to any sense of community.

    I would agree the board and city contributed to this outcome by neglecting the facility for so long. I’d like to see a heritage building saved if at all possible. But am I wrong to think that the destruction of Connaught school didn’t just happen this spring, but during the previous years that it was neglected, and that it’s now too far gone to be saved?

    What am I missing?

  24. I don’t know if I count as “the Connaught people” but here is the nutshell as I understand it:

    First, required repairs submitted by the consulting engineer for safe operation in September:

    Bracing of a crack on the southeast corner $10,000
    Re-pointing of bricks in three locations $5,000
    Put a barrier to prevent climbing on front stairs $1,000
    Patch holes in boiler, caretaker and janitor rooms $5,000
    Fix broken floor tiles in two basement rooms $5,000
    Cover the mechanical shaft in the attic $1,000
    Added to this is $15,000 for the engineering company’s monitoring services (which will also be paid in the relocation school) and $25,000 for unforeseen repairs.

    There was an issue with a beam that appeared to be cracking, however the report says this was dealt with by installing a reinforcement beam. The wall that was mentioned in danger of collapse was a non-supporting cloakroom wall that has since been replaced.

    The hole in the basement wall that has received a great deal of media attention was deliberately made there years ago for a dryer vent. The bricks passed a core sample test, but mortar needs a refresh (regular mortar updating is common practice for maintaining masonry buildings).

    The ongoing more expensive concern is whether the slabs would meet today’s codes, with suggestions ranging from replacing them to reinforcing them, along with reinforcing the beams. These are the more major structural repairs, as opposed to immediate remedial repairs. A reinforcement strategy hasn’t been seriously costed out or explored.

    At no point has the building as it is currently been declared unsafe, although obviously a continued pattern of neglect could quickly render it so – the engineer’s main point. If I were a consulting engineer, I, too, would get sick and tired of seeing recommendations ignored year after year, and would call an end to my firm’s involvement.

    The Education Act expressly states school boards are supposed to upkeep school buildings and make sure they remain insurable. The board director says the building won’t be insured, although the public hasn’t been given documented evidence of discussions with an insurer.

    Why were parents so eager for the school to be open in September? Because in 2012, the board’s consultant said there should be a relocation plan for a new build or renovation. In 2013, the community asked where the plan was, and was told there was only an extremely slim chance that students would need to be relocated. At the end of March, 2014, we were told the whole school has to be relocated – with no discernable plan in place – by September, leaving only weeks of planning between now and the end of the school years. This is unprecedented short notice for a school closure.

    In a nutshell, people said: have a meeting with your insurer, make the repairs, keep it open in September and allow a reasonable planning time frame – to make up for the dearth of advance planning and remedial repairs the board miserably failed to carry out over the past two years, in clear contravention of the Education Act.

    As one parent stated, no one cares more about the safety and well-being of the children than their parents – so let’s actually do something to address the problems, beyond the continued pattern of neglect, mismanagement, and ignoring public input. This isn’t unreasonable.

    PS. You can read all the community submissions at http://www.saveourconnaught.ca, as well as an assessment from a building conservator, and there’s a community meeting at the Balkwill Centre on April 13 at 6 p.m.

  25. Good story. The collapsing of a wall, well at least it wasn’t load bearing, because that would be bad, or maybe the fact a wall collapsed that was not load bearing is a good thing, and indicates real problems. Where does it say in the reports the hole is due to a dryer vent, in a mechanical room? Are you sure, or is it another SOC story? When were the bricks tested, I don’t see this in the reports? They look pretty shot in the photos and yes, all the reports on the SOC website mention extensive masonry repairs, so at least that is true.

    The reports say that it is a matter of structure meeting codes, but also that the floors are continuing to become unsafe, due to the thickness of the concrete and the amount and type of reinforcing, and there are major cracks. The reports all talk about completely removing the interiors of the building in order to fix the problems, including taking out all of the plumbing and heating and the entire basement floor, and that is the cheapest opinion!

    Maintaining a building like this is expensive, so which other buildings over the years should Regina Public have not maintained, or cut maintenance to in order to save Connaught for the Cathedral? Maybe a roof at Imperial, windows at Wascana? Because this seems to be the type of trade-off the SOC would have approved of. Of course Real Renewal (SOC) would have then been upset that other schools were left to rot.

    When you have $1 you can’t buy all the candy in the store, but SOC feels that they should have priority. There are some pretty sad schools in the city because of underfunding of maintenance, but I bet a lot of communities in Regina would have been pretty happy to hear their crappy school was going to be replaced, even for short term pain, the community benefits in the long term. Seems to me the Cathedral is luckier than many, so much for an “attack on the community” or some deliberate act of sabotage by the Board. It seems to me they have done a great job looking at the long term despite having no control over funding, or at least 5 of them do. Not so sure about the 2 who get funded and supported and put on the Board by Real Renewal.

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