Susan Mackenzie is putting her background in numbers—she is a former banker and financial planner—to work as a member of Save SCITS, a group hoping to steer the Lambton Kent District School Board away from the idea of closing Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, the oldest high school in the city.
The focus of the group’s efforts are the validity of numbers being used by the school board in deciding to consolidate St. Clair High School and SCITS, closing the latter.
“The public is in agreement that the two schools need to consolidate because of programming options and low enrolment,” says Mackenzie, who lives near SCITS. “The issue is the consolidation of students to the most cost effective school—that being SCITS.”
The group Mackenzie represents is intent on fighting the issue on the same basis that school board officials are arguing that SCITS should be closed, with renovations to take place at St. Clair.
“We are convinced it is not a fiscally responsible use of public money,” says Mackenzie, using estimates of $14 million in renovations that would be required before students at SCITS could be consolidated at St. Clair.
The school board is expected to apply for Ministry of Education grants to cover the renovations as well as an additional $12 million grant to build an auditorium and community centre.
“SCITS would need facility renewals costing $6.5 million over five years, or a projected total of $17 million over the next 10 years,” argues Mackenzie. “The school already has the amenities the board proposes to construct at St. Clair.”
Not only is there no guarantee that the money needed for St. Clair would be approved, that application wouldn’t be made until after the board trustees vote on April 26.
“It’s a risky gamble on the backs of both student bodies,” says Mackenzie.
She also points out that the fate of various scholarships at SCITS (totalling $85,000 a year) could be in jeopardy. There are, by comparison, some 49 scholarships totalling $50,000 at St. Clair.
Mackenzie also pointed out that SCITS is more heavily used by the community, an estimated 1,788 hours a year, bringing $50,000 in revenue to the board. St. Clair’s use is 289 hours with under $5,000 in revenue.
She has the board has not factored in the cost of maintaining an empty building in their consolidation plans.
In the meantime, the City of Sarnia, which has no legal standing in the decision, is conducting a Community Impact Study due to be released on March 18 and presented to City Council on March 21.
Mackenzie and others worry that the closure of SCITS would have a financial impact on the downtown area and Mitton Village as many businesses rely on traffic from the school.
“Save SCITs committee members believe SCITS is worth saving for the benefit of the public purse, the community and its historical significance,” says Mackenzie.