When the Royal Oak Community School opens in September, it will be opening its doors for the second year in the former hospital building on Wellington Street in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake's Old Town.
Lyndsay Gazzard, a school parent as well as the school's board chair, said the Town has agreed the school can continue to use the building for the coming school year.
“The Town has been very supportive of us,” said Gazzard.
Council announced the Town was purchasing the hospital from the Niagara Health System in March 2017, to keep control over the future use of the Old Town property. The sale will be finalized this September, and so far there has been no news about what the long-term plan is for the building.
The downstairs x-ray department has closed, but doctors continue to see patients in the office space in the basement of the building.
The location works nicely for the school, said Gazzard, with former patients' rooms just the right size for classrooms.
Royal Oak offers classes from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.
The DSBN closed Parliament Oak, the only Old Town school, in June 2015, and by September of that year Royal Oak, a private not-for-profit school was ready to open its doors in the Market Room of the Court House on Queen Street with 12 students. Registration doubled to 24 its second year, and needing more room, opened at the hospital last September with 36 kids.
The hope for this year is for a registration of 50 students, Gazzard said.
The school appeals to parents because of its small classes, and the customized learning plans it offers each student after assessing their learning needs – whether a child is gifted or struggling in some areas, the learning environment at Royal Oak looks after students in a way the public school system can't, with some students “falling through the cracks,” she said.
The school is also offering an intensive French program starting in Kindergarten, said Gazzard.
It also offers a safe and respectful learning environment for all its students, said Gazzard, and focuses on being part of the community, including using the public shuttle bus to transport students to the NOTL Public Library and the community centre, where physical education classes are held.
When Parliament Oak closed and was put up for sale, the Town attempted to purchase it from the school board, but was not successful after several bids were turned down. A group of residents had been hoping to be able to use the building as a community hub, including relocating Royal Oak to allow it room to grow. The board sold it to a Montreal developer of business parks, who has not gone public with his intentions for the property.
“I understand he has no immediate plans for the building. In a perfect world, it would have been a great place for us, but it's out of our control what he chooses to do. It would be wonderful if it became a community hub but it's his building and his choice, and we respect that.”
If the Town has no plans for the hospital building for next year, Royal Oak might be able to renew its lease, said Gazzard, but in the meantime board members continue to look for the school's permanent home, including a number of buildings in NOTL that could suit their needs.
School tuition is $9,300 per student, but 50 per cent of the families who send their children to Royal Oak receive financial assistance, said Gazzard. There have been a number of private donations from local individuals and families to subsidize tuition, but the school would really like to receive some corporate donations to be able to offer more bursaries.
“We fundraise to endure we can help any family with children who want to come to our school. We want to make sure we can offer help to any student who need it. We don't want to ever have to turn a child down because of money – we'd find a way.”
Gazzard's daughter has been at Royal Oak since it opened, will graduate from Grade 8 next year, and loves it, she said.
“The culture is kind, respectful and community focused. That's what we want for all of the kids,” said Gazzard.
“It's great at developing independence and leadership skills that will help them the rest of their lives. What I see there is a lot of happy kids who are thriving.”
To register a student visit, royaloakcommunityschool.ca.