Some Simcoe Street residents say although they are happy with the planned expansion of a new nursery school in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but they also are worried.
A number of concerns about the new facility were raised by the residents including safety, preserving trees and the town’s lack of transparency while negotiating the deal.
Town council last week approved construction of a new 4,308-square-foot child care facility to the east side of NOTL Community Centre. The $1.5-million nursery school will accommodate a total of 69 children, from infants to school-age kids.
As the school’s main entrance will be on Anderson Lane, Rosamund Hennessey, who lives nearby on Simcoe Street, said it is a busy and congested road where people drive quickly and do a rolling stop at the sign before moving on.
“All the traffic and the safety of the children was our main concern,” she said.
David Gray, who lives on the corner of Simcoe Street and Anderson Lane, agreed, saying the stop sign has never been adhered to.
“It’s mayhem at the moment,” he told The Lake Report. “What’s going to happen with elderly people who walk on the sidewalk? Whereas if (the nursery school) was on the west side, it would be much easier to drop your kids off in a much safer environment.”
The news about the expansion came as a surprise to the residents as they didn’t know about the deal until after they’d read the article in The Lake Report, added Bonnie Wegerich, another Simcoe resident.
Residents also wondered how the nursery school will impact the library with its quiet hours of operation. They also said they worry what will happen to the trees at the back of the library.
Jennifer Gardiner expressed hope the garden behind the library would remain as it is right now because it’s “so peaceful back there,” she said.
Another Simcoe resident David Hennessey questioned why the public wasn’t informed about the negotiations as the residents have a right to know how their tax money is being spent.
The secrecy “in which all of this was done” doesn’t sit right with him, he said, especially since the town has been “excellent” in communicating with residents. This instance is “uncharacteristic” of the council, said Hennessey.
Negotiations for a lease have to be done in-camera, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero, adding the province requested that the deal not be made public until the province signed on to it.
“Until we actually came to an agreement on the terms of the lease, we weren’t even sure that that’s where (the school) would be,” Disero told The Lake Report. “So now we can make it public and talk to residents about it and see what comments they make.”
When asked why the school is built to the east side of the centre, Disero said there were a number of issues, including parking and location, that would have had to be dealt with. Disero also said she wasn’t sure if the school would have been eligible for provincial funding if it just renovated the space instead.
“I’m trying to figure out what the challenges were for the west side,” she said in a phone interview. “At this point, I’m not sure. I’m told (the deal) is not changeable but I want to find out more about why (the school) wasn’t suitable for the west side.”
The current wait list for the school also has more than 80 names on it.
Jennifer Jones-Butski, who will be moving with her family back to NOTL from St. Catharines in July, noted the expansion won’t cover the number of children on the nursery school’s wait list.
Her five-year-old daughter is on the list but her two-year-old son will be staying at day care in St. Catharines as the NOTL nursery only accepts children from 27 months and older.
“Personally, I think they could do a lot more than what they’re doing,” Jones-Butski said in a phone interview.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that they got this expansion and they’re going to be able to add infants and toddlers. But I think to put it all on one facility is too much. I think there needs to be more than one (school).”
Simcoe Street residents agreed that with the expansion, there will still be children on the wait list and suggested building the new school either on the west side of the community centre or on the old hospital site. Old Town residents are also mostly seniors so having the nursery school near the area may not be convenient for young families who have to drive their children from Virgil, St. Davids or Glendale, some residents said.
The construction cost for the new nursery school will be split among the town, Niagara Region and the Ministry of Education. The building is expected to be ready by December 2020.