It was with a large dose of reservation, but Mount Pearl City council has given the English School District approval for a “pretty sizable extension” of St. Peter’s Junior High School on Munden Drive.
The work will include the creation of a new exit from the parking lot of the school onto Munden Drive, which council hopes will ease traffic problems in the area.
Planning and Development Committee chairman Andrew Ledwell said the extension includes completion of a “junior high sized” gymnasium with a stage and change rooms. The main floor of the old gym will be converted into a cafeteria and kitchen, with a second floor added to accommodate six new classrooms. The existing cafeteria will be converted into two additional classrooms. The work is expected to take 18 months to two years.
“This is a pretty sizable extension,” said Ledwell, adding the plans include expansion of the parking lot and the creation of a driveway around the school leading to the new access on Munden Drive.
To gain the new access, to be situated between 93 and 95 Munden Drive, the school board needs to acquire city owned land that is now used as a pathway.
“It is proposed that it will be a single lane with a side walk and right turning only,” said Ledwell.
A public meeting on the development was held March 19. Three people attended. The City issued over 200 notices to residents in the neighbourhood about the meeting.
“There were a number of concerns that were expressed,” said Ledwell. “Those revolve around traffic flow, the impact on the neighbourhood in terms of noise and safety, potential problems with traffic – both on foot and on four wheels – and the loss of some green space.”
Ledwell said the longer driveway around the school will allow for the stacking of some 75 cars, which would enter from the current access and exit through the new one. “It’s thought that the stacking of the 75 cars would allow for traffic to come off of Munden Drive thereby reducing congestion on the street,” he said. “At least that’s the hope.”
The school board has committed to install privacy fencing between the new exit and the neighbours immediately adjacent to it. Ledwell said that after much discussion at the committee level, the recommendation is to approve the application. He then moved that the city also conduct a survey on the land needed for the new exit so that it can be leased to the school board.
Councillor Lucy Stoyles said she could not support it. “I have a major concern with this,” said Stoyles. “I have had since the get go.”
Stoyles said she attended all but one of the public forums about school changes that were held by the board last year and has spoken with residents around St. Peter’s. “I’m quite familiar with the school, my three children went to this school,” she said. “From the time it was built it was too small, it was busting out of the seams.”
Stoyles said while the extension is needed she objects to the effect the new exit will have on the immediate neighbours. “If I was living there, I wouldn’t want it next to me,” she said. “I really can’t support that access going in there.”
Stoyles suggested the school board should have tried to buy one of the neighbouring houses to make more room for the exit. “I really don’t think the school board did a good review of the whole system,” she argued. “People were up in arms for months last year, almost all the public forums were full.”
Deputy Mayor Jim Locke, who chaired Tuesday’s public meeting in the absence of Mayor Randy Simms, asked Stoyles what she would do differently. Stoyles said she would send some of the children to a different school.
Councillor John Walsh said the changes to the school are “substantive and sweeping” and he shares Stoyles’ concerns. He noted the neighbour who is most affected by the changes, who has problems with vandalism and noise over the years, also continues to have concerns.
“But I recognize as a councillor that something has to be done,” Walsh said. “It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Put them in another building.’ There is no other building. The buildings are all overcrowded, unfortunately.”
Walsh said as long as the new exit from the school allows for right turning traffic only, the new configuration should alleviate some of the traffic congestion on Munden Drive. “For me this is about balancing, using the resources that you have and trying to find the suitable balance,” he added. “I share the concerns , but I see this as an opportunity and I want to make sure that our Planning Department and our council really hold the School Board’s feet to the fire in terms of following through, particularly on the promises made (to the neighbour)… When you look at everything in totality, this is the best and safest and most prudent decision. It’s not perfect, but the fitting in of the school building into the neighborhood was never perfect. This is as good as it’s going to get.”
Councillor Dave Aker urged council to reach out to the neighbours to ensure their concerns are taken into account by the school board. He agreed the proposed loop around the school should alleviate traffic problems in the area.
Councillor Paula Tessier too said the proposed changes are a chance to make the traffic situation better. The privacy fence might also improve things better for the resident when it comes to vandalism, she said.
Ledwell said while he is also sympathetic about the impact on the immediate neighbours, he agrees with Walsh that council must err on the side of safety. “I think we have to let this go ahead, because we have to look after the safety of our students,” he said.
Calling the vote on Ledwell’s motion, Deputy Mayor Locke observed that “If it doesn’t work… we’re not averse to revisiting it.”
On the vote, the motion passed with everyone in support except Stoyles, who voted nay.