South Plympton School could close at the end of the year

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This could be the last year the wildcats roar at South Plympton.

Next school year, students at South Plympton Public School could be going to class at Wyoming Public School.

Closing the rural school which houses Junior Kindergarten to Grade 3 students is just one of a raft of recommendations made by staff of the Lambton-Kent District School Board as it tries to grapple with the realities of shrinking provincial funding and declining enrolment.

A report trustees were to study at Tuesday night’s meeting lays out the bare facts. The Lambton-Kent board’s enrolment is declining nine times faster than the provincial average and in the next 10 years the board will have about 1,150 students.

That will only increase the amount of empty space in the region’s schools. Lambton-Kent’s high schools are only 62 per cent full compared to the provincial average of 79.6 per cent. Elementary schools are 75.3 per cent filled, compared to 86.4 per cent provincially.

Jim Costello, director of education, says the province is already cutting funding for empty space. In the next three years the board can expect to lose another $4.298 million.

And then there is the money needed to update the systems aging buildings. Lambton Kent needs $202,906,000 to complete capital projects on its schools. The board will get $14.48 million this year leaving $188,423,000 to go.

The report estimates another $189 million in upgrades and repairs will be needed over the next 10 years.

“A reduction in the number of schools is necessary in order for the LKDSB’s capital dollars to be efficiently allocated to strengthen the learning environment for the maximum number of students on an equitable basis,” say officials in the report to trustees.

So Costello and the superintendents have put together a comprehensive plan to reorganize schools. South Plympton would be among the first buildings to close if the recommendation is accepted.

The report says the 110 students at South Plympton would move to Wyoming at the beginning of the next school year. The board would like to build an addition onto the school which would see the current gym turned into two classrooms and a new gymnasium built. There would also be a new learning commons and an area to teach life skills in the update for the school built in 1965.

If provincial funding wasn’t available, two portable classrooms could be used.

Officials say closing South Plympton would cut busing costs, even if all the students south of the railroad tracks were bused to school.

The board is also considering merging St. Clair and SCITS high schools at St. Clair for the beginning of the next school year.

The report also outlines other possibilities to consolidate schools including closing Dawn-Euphemia School and Confederation Central.

While the report doesn’t give a timeline, it suggests the Dresden area schools should be reorganized.

One idea would see Lambton Kent Secondary School turned into a Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 school with students from Dawn-Euphemia and Dresden filling up that building.

Students from Dawn-Euphemia could also end up at Lambton Central Centennial, Brigden, Brooke Central or HW Burgess in Wallaceburg.

Confederation Central is targeted for closure if the board constructs a new elementary school in Sherwood Village in Sarnia. The students could also go to Brigden Public School or Wyoming Public School.

Petrolia schools would not undergo an accommodation review with this plan and schools in Warwick and Brooke-Alvinston are also left out of the plan.

The Lambton Kent District School Board has closed 14 elementary and two secondary schools – including East Lambton –  since amalgamation in 1998.

The board was to consider setting up an accommodation review committee for the Wyoming schools and the Sarnia high schools during its Tuesday night meeting. The result of that meeting wasn’t available at press time.

By the Numbers

Lambton Kent’s Elementary Schools are at 75.2 per cent capacity and the highschools are at 62 per cent capacity. That compares to 86.4 and 79.6 per cent provincially.

In 10 years, there will be 1,151 fewer students in Lambton Kent.

In Petrolia and Central Lambton, – with the exception of South Plympton, Hillcrest and Queen Elizabeth II – there are even fewer students than the Lambton-Kent average capacity rate

Dawn-Euphemia 43 per cent

Wyoming 56 per cent

South Plympton 80 per cent

Hillcrest 106 per cent

QEII 86 per cent

Lambton Centennial 64  per cent

Brooke Central 67 per cent

Brigden 75 per cent

East Lambton 59 per cent

Confederation 74 per cent

Dresden 75 per cent

LCCVI is at 68 per cent capacity but is projected to climb to 70 per cent by 2018.

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