NOTL also exploring creating a 'hub' for high school students
Having a nursery school in town and having a reasonable waiting list for families is crucial to attracting more families to Niagara-on-the-Lake, says Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
Council has voted to give an additional $340,000 toward expansion of the school, which operates out of the community centre and is currently the only licensed child care provider in town. The town's contribution will be covered by tax revenues. An earlier pledge of almost $250,000 will be paid out of development charges.
Of the $2 million project cost, the school will also be providing $715,000 of its own money, $100,000 of which the school is hoping to raise in the community.
The other funding is coming from various levels of government, including the Ministry of Education.
Disero has made a $1,000 donation herself.
“It's really important when building and keeping a community that we look at it as a complete community,” Disero said in an interview.
“And that includes things that all taxpayers pay for that only some use, like the Niagara Nursery School, like transportation, like even maintenance of some of our sports facilities.”
She said a nursery school will also help with the town's long-term growth strategy.
“The other thing too, is that part of our strategic plan, and part of our goals and objectives within the strategic plan is to try to promote economic development and young families coming into our community. And this will help in that regard.”
She said the number of kids in Niagara-on-the-Lake is increasing. The town's recent Halloween goodie bag project alone showed there at more than 700 kids in town, Disero said, and she estimates there could be more that didn't sign up.
“I think everybody was surprised by the number over 700. We're an 18,000 population and 700 is a good jump from where we were even five years ago.”
The number of kids also brings up the potential need for a high school in town. Disero said she and NOTL parent Caroline Polgrabia having been looking into ways to create some type of high school situation for kids living in town. The idea, so far, is to create a hub for students in town, so they can spend one or two days a week in their hometown.
She said she has been working with Polgrabia on trying to encourage the Catholic school board to look at how rural education can be improved and keep NOTL high school students in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“Even if it's just a couple days a week, so that way they're more connected to the community,” Disero said. “They can continue friendships with other high school students here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and hopefully in turn, that will allow them to stay once they're finished school, in our community and in our town and become the leaders of tomorrow, which is really important.”
She said the town approached the school board in August and officials were “interested and very excited about what we're doing.”
The hub would be a place for students to come and participate in the online portions of their schooling, and could be offered out of a building in Virgil where the Yellow Door Theatre Project operates, she said.
The idea is to give students a place where they can work with other students from the community, while also having access to career counsellors, during regular school hours.
“They would be doing their online schooling with their computer, but there would be someone there to ensure that people are keeping a distance, that they're wearing a mask if they need to,” Disero said.
“What they want to do as well is bring in speakers that will talk to them about different careers,” she said, and to connect students with different organizations and workplaces in the community for one-day co-op programs to give them experience in various industries.
The solution is a mix of pandemic response and showing the Ministry of Education that there is a need for a high school in community, she said.
“So we're working on it, to try to get buy-in.”
She noted the province is looking for creative ways to improve rural education and a community high school hub could be an idea that helps meet those goals.
“If Caroline is successful in putting together this hub, then we may get be able to convince the province that rural education needs to look different than urban, just because of the nature of the distances between between households and the densities in urban areas.”
She said as far as a dedicated public high school, there are no plans in the works yet, but that at some point in the future when the Glendale community is more developed, it could be something the town needs.
Either way, a nursery school is a step in the right direction, Disero said.
“I see it good for so many reasons. One, we're complete. Two, we're pushing our economic development agenda. And three, we're also trying to provide for young families coming into Niagara-on-the-Lake.”