There’s a new secondary school being built in the downtown core for the first time in decades – a new home for Catholic Central High School – and it’s thanks to an agreement between the City of Windsor and the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board.
In exchange for $1 and a guarantee that a new sporting field house will be available for community use, the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will receive the former Windsor Arena (more commonly referred to as “The Barn”), the Water World Complex and a municipal parking lot.
The current home of Catholic Central no longer makes the cut for the school board.
“We have known for several years, certainly since I took over as director, that Catholic Central was a dynamic school in terms of cultural mosaic [and a] dedicated staff,” explained WECDSB Director of Education Paul Picard. “But in a really tired building without any outdoor facilities whatsoever; no sports field, no ability to even have a [physical education] class outside or practice for games.”
Catholic Central administrators were forced to accommodate approximately eight classes of students, located two blocks away from the school itself, which caused students to often have to travel in inclement weather to go class-to-class.
“We were committed to trying to convince anyone that would listen that these are among our most vulnerable students and they needed a level playing field,” said Picard. “With that in mind, we wrote the letters, we appealed to the politicians and finally a couple of months ago got conditional approval to begin looking for land, assuming that we could find some in the same catchment area, at a reasonable price.”
Picard engaged in multiple discussions with Mayor Francis and “low and behold, we came to what we think is the perfect place.”
City Councilor Fulvio Valentinis believes that Catholic Central moving into the core will be beneficial to all parties, including the downtown as a whole.
“You bring a new school into a neighbourhood [and] it’s important,” said Valentinis. “It becomes a catalyst [and] it sends out a message that [the] neighbourhood is important.”
Valentinis believes that schools are positive generators of attracting life, business and day-to-day activity into neighbourhoods.
“The core has usually suffered from a lack of school, so to see a new state-of-the-art facility coming into the [downtown] core neighbourhood is very exciting,” said Valentinis who believes that the school will “strengthen the neighbourhood” because the field house will be available for community use.
“We wanted to ensure that the community will continue to have access [and] that it’s not strictly going to be for the students,” said Valentinis. “Yes, they’ll be the primary beneficiaries, but the greater surrounding community will now have access to some of those community facilities, whether they are sports facilities, etcetera. It becomes a community centre in the truest sense of the word.”
While Picard was unable to state a rough estimate of the cost of construction and renovation, he did explain that acquiring land was the first step of the business plan.
Part of the agreement with the city states that the new school must maintain the historical significance of The Windsor Arena.
As for Water World, Picard explained that the pool would be removed and that the interior could be transformed into a triple gym, while still having room for a potential dance studio upstairs, a fitness room, a smaller gym, kitchen area and meeting area.
“You could not ask for a better facility to act as a field house and as a community hub,” expressed Picard. “You attach that to the school and the community wins, the school wins, everyone wins.”
Picard expects the new school to house somewhere between 800 and 1000 students, a number which he believes to be a “real nice secondary school size” in terms of programming.
While Picard was unable to provide a specific time-frame, he explained that he was hopeful that the board can expedite the business plan and get the necessary approvals required as quickly as possible.
“We would love to get a shovel in the ground within a year’s time and as fast as we can get the necessary approvals, we want to go,” said Picard. “This is really exciting to be part of that emerging downtown educational hub.”
“We can’t express how grateful we are for the vision of the Mayor and City Council,” said Picard. “[This is] partnership in the truest sense of the word: everybody wins.”
Jonathon Liedtke is the Features & Opinion Editor for the University of Windsor Lance Campus/Community Newspaper and a reporter for ourWindsor.ca. As a founding member and current Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, he is committed to representing, connecting, engaging with and advocating for local youth. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.