With only one trustee voting against the plan, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board has officially decided to close St. Agatha Catholic Elementary School.
The issue came to a final vote at the board of trustees meeting on Monday night, with only Amy Fee, representing part of Kitchener and Wilmot, opposing the plan.
Having gone through an accommodation review, the board determined retaining the school wasn’t worth the nearly $3 million needed to repair the structure, as just 82 students currently attend.
When school starts back up in September, those 82 St. Agatha students will be sent to either St. Clement Catholic Elementary School in Wellesley Township, or Holy Rosary Catholic Elementary School in Waterloo. Both schools currently have the space to accommodate the new students.
WCDSB chair Joyce Anderson said with the decision made, the board has a sense of relief, but also remembers the rich history of the board’s oldest school.
“It is an enormous amount of work on everybody’s part – staff, trustees and community – to go through the review process. What is required by legislation is very involved and so it is the culmination of a lot of work,” she said. “When I use the word relief, it is relief tinged with sadness, always. It is hard to lose a school, and one as dear to our hearts as St. Agatha’s, it is particularly difficult. It is the oldest school in the board. It has got an enormous history and many people that remember it and were educated there. We are sad about that, but I think the changing demographics require us to do those things, to shift the resources to the subdivisions where new families are moving in and there is a greater need.”
There is already a plan in place to help the St. Agatha students transition to their new schools.
“The three schools will start to work together to get the students together and everyone can get to know each other so the students from St. Agatha will feel comfortable come September. We want them to have some knowledge of the school and the students and they can make new friends,” she said. “It is always a scary time for parents and students, but we are going to do everything we can to make it go smoothly for them.”
Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris said closing the school wasn’t the only or even the best option. In the second accommodation review a few years ago, the committee recommended applying for a new school to be built in Wilmot Township rather than bussing students to other townships.
That idea was never followed through on. The decision to close to school came after the third review in nearly 10 years.
“Last night was it and we will see an important institution in our community closed at the end of the school year. It is going to spread families all over the area, whether it is Waterloo or St. Clements,” Harris said Tuesday. “We get the economics of it, with the age of the school, the low population of the school, but I think we have to recognize that after the last review, the outcome of that was to apply for a new school somewhere in the township and that didn’t happen. I am not saying that we needed to keep this school open, but they ignored the call from the last review.”
At the provincial level, the government wasn’t much help on the matter either.
“At Queen’s Park, we asked the government to put a moratorium on rural school closures because St. Agatha isn’t the only one under attack here. Many rural schools around the province are subject to closure,” said Harris, adding this could just be the beginning. “We believe that there are the numbers in the township to justify the school. We went through this in St. Clements a year or two ago, as well. That will be the next school on the chopping block if it keeps going like this. Rural schools are important to the local fabric of our communities. They are different than our urban schools and they should be treated differently.”