School Boards Try to Keep Pace With Barrhaven’s Growth

By Charlie Senack

As Barrhaven continues to rapidly grow, school boards are trying their best to keep up with the sudden rise in students. Now both main boards are calling for a third high school to be built in the community.

Both the Ottawa Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board have two high schools in the community. There are 27 total schools in Barrhaven, a number which will soon grow.

This summer, more portables have popped up at Longfields Davidson Heights High School, which is one of the biggest in the city. According to their website, the school has 2,250 students ranging from grades seven to 12.

Thanks to an accommodation review which was completed during the 2018-19 school year, grade seven and eight students who live in Chapman Mills but went to Cedarview due to overcrowding issues, are now able to return to their closest school.

Barrhaven/Knoxdale-Merivale trustee Donna Blackburn told the Barrhaven Independent this was always the plan.

“Longfields is naturally their community school,” Blackburn said. “What the district had to do was send these kids to Cedarview due to overcrowding. But we are now in a position to say to the Chapman Mills community that you can now go to your normal high school (for grades seven and eight).”

The accommodation review, which is a public process which works with parents, school councils and community associations, also helped with overcrowding issues John McCrae High School was facing.

At the end of the 2018-19 school year, it was announced that four portable classrooms would be placed on a section of the schools track and sports field, moving the end zone six metres, and shortening the track from a regulation 400 metres to only 350 metres. This was due to a rising student population which was going to climb to 1,360 students in 2020.  But now Blackburn says they have the situation under control and says they won’t have trouble finding classes for students.

The overcrowding — which was to be expected — came as a result of allowing students who lived in Half Moon Bay to attend John McCrae High School, instead of being bused out to South Carleton High School. This was a motion Blackburn fought for because if it was not passed, students would have been separated from their friends who would have attended high school in Barrhaven.

“Keep in mind all those students attended elementary and middle school in Barrhaven, and those kids would have been separated from their peers who they have attended school with for 10 years,” said Blackburn.

“I successfully passed the motion so that students could go to either school, and by doing that, we knew that down the line there would be problems with overcrowding at John McCrae; it only made sense,” she added. “But at the time it was not overcrowded and the principal wanted more kids so they could offer more wholesome programming.”

But while the public board is adding more portable classrooms, the Catholic board is in a position to do the opposite. Barrhaven Catholic board trustee Spencer Warren says they were able to remove 11 portables  at St. Joseph High School, thanks to funding they received for an expansion. The school currently has an enrolment of about 2,000 students, which required the school to previously have 30 portable classrooms; Now they are left with only 13.

Opening for the first time this September, St. Joes’ $17.6 million expansion is finally complete, creating additional space for 650 students. It entails over 30 new rooms including: many more classrooms, special purpose rooms, and a new gymnasium.

“When we went for the funding and got approved for the funding and we’re building the classrooms, we thought we were getting rid of all 30 portables,” said Warren. “But now that Barrhaven has grown so fast, we still need 13 of them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also helped with student population numbers. With many parents feeling unsafe about sending their children to packed classes, they opted instead for virtual learning. Both Blackburn and Warren say they will have a much higher number of in-person learners come this fall, but the pandemic allowed them time to plan.

Need for more high schools

Both Warren and Blackburn plan to advocate for an additional high school in Barrhaven for their respective boards. The community is continuing to welcome new families to the area, resulting in more schools needing to be built. But that takes time and funding, meaning in the interim they must utilize the resources they have.

“We do have a plan to build another high school in Barrhaven, and we are probably looking at Half Moon Bay,” said Warren. “Most of the growth happening in Barrhaven is taking place in the Half Moon Bay, Stonebridge, and Chapman Mills communities, which feed into St. Joes.”

“There is no doubt we will need a third high school in Barrhaven,” also concluded Blackburn. “We have an outstanding planning department at the OCDSB, and actually a lot of the people who sit at that table live in Barrhaven, and have for a significant amount of their lives. They are raising their families here and sending their kids to school in the community. We will have to get that school on our list and start lobbying for it.”

In October 2020 it was announced a new public high school would be built in Riverside South, which will cost $42 million to build. It will house roughly 1,500 students and 40 licensed childcare spaces once it opens. Shovels are expected to be in the ground sometime soon with the land at Spratt and Earl Armstrong already secured.

It’s also expected to help with overcrowding in Barrhaven schools. Currently high school-aged students who live in Riverside South are being bused to Merivale High School in Nepean, or to South Carleton High School in Richmond. Others choose to switch to the Ottawa Catholic School Board, with St. Francis Xavier already built in the community.

It will also mean that high school students who live on the Barrhaven side of the Vimy Memorial Bridge can instead switch to the future Riverside South public high school to help with overcrowding issues in the community. Blackburn says an accommodation review will likely have to be done in the future to see what that could mean for school boundary changes.

The public board is also getting ready to start building a new elementary school in Half Moon Bay to help with overcrowding issues in the community.

Warren says the Catholic board is also looking at doing the same, and noted that out of the last four elementary schools the OCSB has built, two of them were in Barrhaven. He also noted that Findlay Creek desperately needs a new elementary school, but they are waiting on funding from the province.

“I have been trying to get a new elementary school in Findlay Creek for the last six years now, and for the last four years it has been a top priority,” said Warren. “But the ministry keeps pushing it down because the numbers we haven’t aren’t an issue now.

“It really comes down to the ministry of education and you can’t really forecast what your needs will be in the future, because they base it on what your students needs are now,” he added.