Families frustrated kids must bus to Bells Corners due to delays building new Barrhaven school

Parents have expressed frustration over a school board decision that will have their children, who currently attend a nearby school in the neighbourhood of Half Moon Bay in Barrhaven, move to a temporary school outside of the community, as construction delays hamper the opening of a second school down the street.

Fadi Mankal says it takes a minute-and-a-half to drive from his home to Half Moon Bay Public School, where he drops off his two children, Zane and Zya for class. While his kids have been attending this school since the family moved to the area a few years ago, it is technically outside of their zone. Their school, along with hundreds of other students, currently dubbed “Half Moon Bay Public School #2”, is just down the road, but it’s not open yet; it’s not even built.

It was supposed to open last year, but the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says supply chain issues of critical construction materials has delayed its completion until January 2024.

But as the west-end community of Half Moon Bay continues to grow, Half Moon Bay Public School (#1) is at its capacity limit, which means students who are to attend the new school down the road will have to start next September at a temporary location in Bells Corners.

“It’s disheartening for sure, they’re going to be bussed half-hour, forty minutes each way,” says Mankal. “And then making a mid-winter move to another new school, having them acclimatize, you basically are writing off several months of another school year. And given the history of the last few years, that’s more on top of the pile. It’s disruptive and, as parents, you get really frustrated with these sorts of things.”

While Grade 6 students will not be affected, more than 600 students from JK to Grade 5 will shuttle 12 kilometres out of Barrhaven, to the currently empty D.A. Moodie School.

The OCDSB says it was unable to find a suitable location nearby that would accommodate that many students and, after considering multiple options, which included capping enrolment at Half Moon Bay Public School, the former middle school was best. It has already been retrofitted, as it was recently used to house students from Stittsville.

“We knew that D.A. Moodie was successfully used as a temporary location for Shingwàkons P.S. and it is a similarly sized and organized school. There is adequate classroom space at the site, and there have been recent improvements to fencing. Additionally, the site is well designed to accommodate the bus traffic that is anticipated,” reads a statement from the school board.

“We don’t like that people are frustrated but our hands are tied and there are simply no other options,” says OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn, adding there are some benefits for students attending class here. “The property backs on to NCC land, which has trails and the [previous] students totally enjoyed being out on the trails and experiencing nature, something they wouldn’t be able to do at the home school.”

Blackburn says it is important to understand that money to build schools comes from the provincial government and that parents need to begin advocating now for the secondary step of their children’s education.

“We know now that we need a new high school in Barrhaven,” says Blackburn. “So I would really encourage people to reach out to members of provincial government to let their voice be heard and get the funding before we get to a crisis situation, because people need to know that a high school takes a lot longer to get built than an elementary school.”

This is not an isolated problem to the OCDSB, the Ottawa Catholic School Board is also faced with construction delays for one of its schools in Barrhaven.

Mankal has started a petition https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/halfmoon-bay-ps-2 with the hope the school board will talk to parents to look at other potential alternatives closer to home.

“It’s disheartening, for sure, and for parents, you know, we have to re-juggle everything as far as work-life-home balance,” he says. “It would have been nice if they had discussed with the stakeholders, the parents, what is ideal for them.”

For Mankal, it’s not just about the inconvenience, his son Zane, doesn’t want to move.

“It’s been the best school I’ve ever been to,” says Zane, in Grade 4. “I’m going to miss the teachers; I’m going to miss my friends that aren’t going to the new school. I want to stay.”

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