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Paradise will get its high school, Province promises

Paradise Mayor Dan Bobbett thanks government ministers Fred Hutton, Krista Lynn Howell, and Sarah Stoodley on Monday, March 4 for the Province’s decision to build a high school in his town. Craig Westcott photo

By Craig Westcott

It took four cabinet ministers Monday to announce Paradise will get a new high school, but no details were available on exactly when it will be built, where it will be built, or how much it will cost.

Newly minted Conception Bay East – Bell Island MHA and Minister of Housing Fred Hutton acted as emcee for the event at the Paradise Double Ice Complex as about 45 people, mostly other politicians and their support staff, but also a delegation of local parents who have been lobbying for the school, looked on.

Hutton joked the announcement was delayed because Education Minister Krista Lynn Howell was late to show up for the event.

“These folks have been waiting (for us) to come forward with today’s announcement, Minister,” Hutton said to appreciative laughter from the room.

“Fred, they’ve waiting that long now, what’s a few more minutes?” said Howell, smiling.

“It’s a great day to have a ticket to Paradise,” Howell added. “I’m certainly pleased to be here today for this much-anticipated announcement related to education.”

Howell noted that in the past year, the Province announced sites for new schools in Portugal Cove – St. Phillips and Kenmount Terrace and awarded contracts for the planning and design of an all grades school in Cartwright, Labrador, as well as an extension to Dorset Collegiate on Pilley’s Island, Notre Dame Bay.

“We’ve got a lot of things happening, a lot of infrastructure work happing in the department,” said Howell. “Today, I am happy to announce the provincial government’s decision to build a new high school right here in the town of Paradise. And I know that many of you have conveyed your thoughts and opinions and concerns to the Department of Education, to myself as the minister, to your MHAs, and you’ve talked about the critical need for a high school to be built in this ever-expanding community of Paradise. We appreciate every single one of those concerns that you brought forward, and we’re taking action to address the needs of the community and the province.”

Howell extended a “very special thank you” to the parents’ group that has been lobbying for the school.

“They really are a model for appropriate, respectful, organized and fact-based advocacy,” said the minister. “It was never hard to have a meeting with you and you’re always respectful, so I certainly appreciate that and the attitudes and the perspectives that you brought, and your approach on this one.”

Howell said the government recognizes the growing population in Paradise and on the Avalon. 

“This infrastructure will meet the needs of our students in this area,” she said. “A new high school will provide a modern learning environment for students in Paradise and the surrounding areas… We know that a school can be the heartbeat of a community, and this new school will help strengthen the beat of an ever-growing vibrant community here in Paradise.”

Digital Government Minister Sarah Stoodley, whose district of Mount Scio includes part of Paradise, admitted she was given a quick education about the need for a high school.

“My journey with this high school started two years ago when we announced the new Kenmount Terrace school and budget,” said Stoodley. “I get home and Mayor (Dan) Bobbett called me. I thought he was calling to congratulate me, and he said, ‘Sarah, where’s our high school?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ That started the journey of learning about the history of the high school and then getting it back on the table, on the team’s radar, and meeting with the amazing parents in the parent group, and obviously getting Fred (Hutton) on board, and the rest of our team.”

Stoodley credited the parents’ group for bringing forward a “fact-based” document on the need for the school.

“So, congratulations, this a big day for you,” Stoodley said.

Mayor Bobbett, tongue-in-cheek, apologized to Stoodley for being “a little aggressive” during his phone call.

“Today is a great day in Paradise,” said Bobbett, turning serious. “On behalf of the Town of Paradise, I extend our thanks to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for making a high school for Paradise a reality. As one of the fastest growing municipalities in the province with the youngest average age population, Paradise needs a high school to complement our four elementary schools and our intermediate school and we commend government for recognizing that.”

A high school has been a priority in the town for many years, Bobbett said, thanking his council for keeping the issue at the forefront.

“Also, a big thank you to our residents,” Bobbett said. “You voiced the need for a high school, and you helped ensure that the town’s needs were kept front and centre for our provincial representatives.”

Bobbett also thanked the government representatives for being open to Paradise’s requests for meetings.

Paradise is a community of choice, said the mayor, and the announcement of a high school, is another key component in why people choose to live there.

“Completing your Kindergarten to Grade 12 education in your hometown helps to solidify your roots to the place that you will always call home,” Bobbett said. “It’s in high school that community pride develops as you cheer on your teams, get involved in community activities and build friendships that often last a lifetime. It’s exciting to know that many of the students in our elementary schools, those starting their educational journey in Paradise, will be able to finish high school in Paradise. We look forward to working with the provincial government on selecting a site for the school which best meets the needs of everybody involved. We are eager to watch the facility take shape, and we can’t wait to see students go to our new high school.”

Hutton noted the announcement was his first as a cabinet minister. 

He added that back in December, when he launched his campaign to become an MHA, the first group he met with as a candidate was the Paradise parents group.

“At that point in time I gave to you my commitment that I agreed with you that a school was needed and so here we are today,” he said. “But I can tell you as well, in going door to door during the campaign – there’s a diverse population within Paradise – but I would knock on a door and when somebody would come to the door with two or three little young ones hanging off the side of them, the first thing they’d go is, ‘Now, I’ve got to ask you something.’ And I would go, ‘Yes, I am in favour of a (high) school.’ So, the need was definitely there and long before I showed up, you folks and others were working very hard to make today become a reality, and I’m glad to be a very small part of it here with you today… Iti s indeed a great day for the town of Paradise, congratulations.”

After the announcement, parents’ group spokesman Matt Creese said the members are confident government will keep its promise. “We have total confidence,” said Creese. “We believe that the province has shown the need for school infrastructure and we now look forward to the site selection development of the school.”

Creese said the group wants a large facility so that it can serve all high school students from Paradise. Currently, students from the town attend either Holy Spirit High in Manuels, CBS, or Mount Pearl Senior High, depending on where in Paradise they live.

Creese said the committee will not disband and will continue to work “in conjunction with” the Province as plans more forward.

Topsail – Paradise MHA Paul Dinn, who has also been lobbying for the school for years, said he regards the announcement with cautious optimism.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s a good announcement,” Dinn said. “This government is good on announcements, but short on action. So this committee – and it’s just an outstanding committee that we’ve brought together – they are not putting away their tools now. This is just a springboard to be more focused on this and to make sure that we’re going to see the doors to a school open in this community. It’s been long needed, long needed, and now we’ve at least got an announcement, so that’s a starting point. You can’t deny it’s positive.”

But Dinn, who is an Opposition MHA, laughed when asked if he has been included in the government’s deliberations about the school.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I’ve been vocal on this for so long and yes, there’s been people who’ve jumped on at the last bus stop, that’s fine. But I guess they want to sell it as theirs. That’s the political aspect of it. I don’t care as long as the people in this community get the school they’ve deserved for so long. And now the focus gets on to when will this school be built, and how big will this school be? Because these parents want a school that will accommodate every high school student in Paradise. So that’s our goal. We’re going to keep pushing for that and we’re going to get that done.”

Dinn indicated that if the PCs were still in power, the school would have been built by now.

“This school was in the PC budget back in 2014-14,” he said. “There was a consultant already hired to do it. This school would be built by now and I guarantee you it (PC support) will continue, and we will have this built, regardless.”

Minister Howell, meanwhile, said the details as to how big, where and when the school will be built are yet to be determined. 

But she assured the school will be built.

“As we look at the landscape of communities like this and recognize the importance of infrastructure for our communities and ensuring their students have a proper place to go to school, I think the data speaks for itself here in the town of Paradise,” Howell said. “It makes sense, it was a decision that the numbers lined up and it has to happen in order to have positive educational outcomes for our students.”

Howell didn’t know whether the possible sites for the school will be restricted to parcels of Crown-owned land within the town, or whether the Province will buy land from private owners.

“I’m not sure right now what that looks like, because as I said, the process for site selection is part of the commitment in the 2024 budget, so as that unfolds it will determine what the proper avenue for that looks like,” she said. 

The timeline for construction and opening is also unclear.

“I wish I could tell you when it will open,” said Howell. “If I could tell you that, then I could see into the future. But as soon as possible is the most responsible answer. We need this done as quick as possible, and that’s going to require taking a look at the feeder schools and where the students come from and trying to ensure that the configurations make sense so that we have adequate programming, and adequate student levels at all of the schools in the surrounding areas.”

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