Monday, 24 October 2011

City Council and PCVS

Tonight City Council meets to vote on a proposal by Mayor Bennett regarding KPR’s misguided attempt to close PCVS. The proposal was approved by the Committee of the Whole last week and is to be brought to the formal council itself tonight.

Bennett's report, presented last Monday, Oct. 17, affirms his dedication to the health of the city’s core and brings several important points before city council and the citizens of Peterborough.

Mayor Daryl Bennett

Bennett notes that the PCVS School Council will be submitting a request to the Ministry of Education for an administrative review of KPR’s decision-making process – a process which, as the subsequent posts on this blog will show, leaves much to be desired. One of the important points in this regard, the report notes, is that the recommendation on which Trustees were asked to vote had been made without a reasonable time frame for citizens to respond.

Bennett’s report goes on to observe that several schools in the city’s core had already previously been closed, significantly altering the makeup of the neighborhoods they had previously anchored. The report points to Peterborough’s Master Plan, a document which notes that Ontario’s school funding formulas are excessively punitive on smaller and older schools, which are typically located in urban cores.” Moreover, the report observes, the Ministry of Education’s policies in this regard are contrary to the province’s own policies regarding the goals of urban intensification as stated in the Places to Grow Act. As a result, Bennett is asking council to pressure the Minister of Education to revise the funding formulas.

The heritage value of PCVS both as a physical building and as an institution is also indicated in the report. PCVS as an institution is one of the oldest schools in Ontario, in fact 23 years older than the legal entity of Peterborough itself, having been established in 1827, well before the former settlement of Scott’s Plains was incoporated as the Town of Peterborough in 1850.

Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational Institute

The cornerstone of the current school building dates from 1907 and the school was opened in September of 1908, some 103 years ago. The building has been well-maintained on both the inside and the outside, and its architectural integrity has preserved. Bennett’s report calls it “undoubtedly one of the most significant heritage structures in the city.”

The report notes, however, that the building is currently “not protected by heritage legislation.” Why would this be the case? Bennett states that the “resistance of the owner” has been a major factor. The very term “owner” here says something important about how KPR’s management culture views itself – not as a facilitator of community education, but as an “owner” of buildings. Bennett recommends that City staff begin to take steps to have PCVS rightly designated as a heritage building under the Ontario Heritage Act.

When the report was presented to the Committee of the Whole last week, members voted almost unanimously in favour of the document’s substance.

Who didn’t support it? Northcrest councillor Bob Hall and Ashburnham councillor Keith Riel.

Hall abstained from voting for the very good reason that he himself is employed as a teacher with KPR. Riel was the city councillor who had actually sat on the Accommodation Review Committee, however, and was quoted this past spring as being well aware of the farcical nature of the accommodation review process and was displeased with the final recommendation made to close TASSS, the school to which most of his constituents would send their children.

Now that the decision has been changed and PCVS recommended for closure, however, Riel has adopted a new stance – he feels that it is not city council’s place to meddle with a decision that has already been made. This attitude of acceptance of authoritarian decisions negatively impacting the community at large is obviously contrary to Riel’s own background in the labour movement, and is puzzling to say the least.

Bennett, who is himself a graduate of PCVS, obviously feels strongly about his former school for personal reasons. However, PCVS is hardly the only long-standing institution in Peterborough’s core for which Bennett has stood up. About 15 years ago, Bennett was active in the “Save Market Hall” campaign which successfully arranged for renovations to the historic community center and prevented it from being turned into a bingo hall.

Market Hall, now a performing arts center

Bennett was also a member of the Board of Governors of Trent University when the administration under President Bonnie Patterson was pressured by the Harris government to shut down Peter Robinson and Traill Colleges, mini-campuses featuring historic buildings located at the north end of the city’s core, rather than at the extreme north end of the city itself where Trent’s Nassau campus is. Local documentary film-maker Mike Johnston, known for his successful film “My Student Loan” which details the political and educational mess created by Harris’s and Patterson’s authoritarian and ill-advised decisions to force the downtown campuses to close, reports that Bennett was one of the few Board members willing to listen to alternative views on the subject. Bennett was subsequently not invited to another term on the Board.

Sadleir House at the former Peter Robinson College at George St. and Parkhill

That story ended badly, as we all know. Patterson’s Harris-like intransigence on the subject led to her having eight female Trent students, most of whom have gone on to be notable community leaders, arrested and put in jail. It also resulted in a group of Trent professors taking the administration to judicial review, where the frightful ruling was made that unelected and unaccountable Governors had the final say over educational policy at Canadian universities – not the faculty themselves. The closure of Peter Robinson and Traill displaced several important Trent humanities programs, tarnished Trent’s reputation nationally, and drastically reduced a decades-long tradition of Trent student involvement in the downtown community.

We will not allow another relic of Harris authoritarianism to repeat the same mistake with PCVS.

We should thank our city councillors for standing up to outsider pressure and taking measures to protect the integrity of our community.

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