Province approves tender for St. Joseph Catholic School addition

Belleville’s St. Joseph Catholic School will be receiving a $19. 8-million addition to increase student capacity and add a child-care centre following provincial approval of the project tender.

This morning, Todd Smith, MPP for Bay of Quinte announced the approval on the school grounds with Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board Chair Tom Dall, Director of Education David DeSantis, Principal Anne Marie Barrett, and Belleville councillor Bill Sandison. 

 “I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to secure the funding to go to tender on this nearly 20-million project,” said Smith. “It’s going to provide more spaces and a more modern learning environment for the kids that go there, but also a new child care centre and all the licenced spaces that go along with it and the two EarlyON rooms for family play are going to be vital for our growing community. ”

The project will include the demolition of an older portion of the school at the west end that housed 210 pupils. It will make way for a new construction that will house 334 students and 49 licenced child-care spaces (10 for infants, 15 for toddlers, and 24 for preschoolers). The overall student capacity will increase to 481. To make room for the addition and expand the school site, the board purchased three residential properties adjacent to the site.

 According to DeSantis, the new section will include 20 learning studios, six learning commons, a gymnasium, stairs, and administrative and breakout spaces. Barrett said the new spaces provide a range of exciting options for student learning.

“As a faith-filled community, we are committed to empowering our students to reach their full potential,” she said. “As we delve further into inquiry-based and project-based learning, the opportunities this new build provides are endless. From flexible classroom design to teacher collaboration spaces, we will endeavour to establish an equitable environment whereby students will have multiple ways to demonstrate their learning. ”

DeSantis said he is hopeful the work will be completed by the start of the 2022-2023 school year in September. To make that happen, construction will begin next month. In the interim, the board has leased the former Winston Churchill Public School from the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board and learning will shift to that property for the rest of the school year.

 “The students really don’t know that at this point, so this is going to be a surprise.  We’re sending out a media release this afternoon to the community and the principal is going to let the students know about the news today,” he said.  “Our hope is to move staff and students over to (Winston Churchill).  We can stay there while this school is being fully renovated. ”

 Dall, who also represents Belleville on the Algonquin and Lakeshore District School Board, has great perspective on what it means for the project to proceed.  

 “I have two grandchildren going here now and I also attended about 60 years ago.  My whole family actually attended this school. There’s a lot of fond memories here in this building,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see.  I am from this area and this school means a lot to the neighbourhood and this community. ”

The news has been some time in the making.  Dall said the board had been aware of the projected growth in east Belleville and had been working on adding capacity at St.  Joseph for four years while dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Sandison welcomed the announcement.  

“It’s a tremendous investment by the Province in our municipality.   We just received a census report that shows our city has grown to 55,000,” he said.  “Investment in our children and grandchildren it really an investment in our future.  It comes at an important time in the growth of our city and it’s a great investment. ”

DeSantis thanked the provincial and municipal governments for their steadfast partnership and support for the renovation, which addresses increasing enrollment in Belleville.

“We’re very grateful.  These last two years with COVID-19 have caused a lot of strife for families, for our communities,” he said.  “To have good news provides a beacon of hope for the community.  This is something we will look forward to and I’m sure it will brighten everyone’s spirits to hear the good news today. ”

Added Barrett: “On behalf of our school community, I would like to express our most sincere appreciation and gratitude for the tender approval and construction of our new school.

“We are very blessed to have such a strong community of supporters, parents, staff and students alike.  On the heels of a very interesting few years in education, this news is met with great enthusiasm and excitement. ”

Smith also shared a video message from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to the board and school community.

“This is great news.  It’s incredible progress.  With kids being back in school, with the backdrop of measures being lifted cautiously and new schools being built in your community, it gives us all a great deal of hope,” said Lecce.  “Thank you for your partnership and I wish you the best of luck as this project gets done on time and on budget, no doubt, for the benefit of your community. ”