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  • Madeline Kerr

Soccer field saved!

The Chelsea Foundation’s soccer field has been saved. 

In an April 10 press release, the local school service centre (CSSPO) said that, after analysis, it can build a French-language elementary school while still preserving the Chelsea Foundation’s existing soccer fields. Both the municipality and the Foundation say this development is a win for the community.

“This is very good news! It is a common sense compromise that preserves the integrity of the Foundation lands and brings added value to the community,” Foundation president Fiona Duguid said. 

Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard echoed the sentiment: “This is great news, and it is worth celebrating,” he recently told the Low Down. 

Many considered it good news that the municipality announced in September 2023 that a new school would be built in the centre village by 2026, but its location became controversial when the municipality offered one of the Chelsea Foundation’s soccer fields as the building site. The Foundation said publicly it would not sell the field, meaning the municipality would need to expropriate the charity’s land and, in the process, potentially set a nationwide precedent.

Now revised, the school site will be on land north of Chemin Relais, including a parking lot belonging to the Foundation, as well as four plots of land belonging to the development firm CARGO.  

The site's overall footprint is smaller than originally planned, which the CSSPO explained is possible because the municipality “has authorized that there be drop-off points at the edge of the street, [meaning] accessibility to the building would not be compromised.” 

Until recently, the municipality said that the size of the land required was six acres.

Furthermore, Guénard explained, the school building could be three storeys high, allowing it to occupy a smaller space.  

Guénard told the Low Down that the changes still need to be approved by the Ministry of Education, and he is unable to say how much the land will cost the municipality. The municipality is required by law to purchase the land at market value and transfer it to the CSSPO. 

The mayor said he credits the positivity and solution-oriented approach of the municipal team for the successful negotiation. He said that, given his background coaching local sports teams and leading recreational clubs, “if there is one guy who can go to bat and talk with passion about [recreation in the community], I can do that.” 

“[The Foundation] did what they thought was best for them, and I did what I thought was best for the whole municipality,” Guénard added, referring to rising tensions between the charity and the municipal administration over the last six months. The debate reached a fever pitch in March, when the Foundation’s vice-president publicly called for the mayor’s resignation, accusing him of misleading the public with regards to the school’s planned site. 

Duguid, as president of the Foundation, said she credits both “the internal work done by the municipality” as well as the “external work that the Foundation and other community organizations and members did…by elevating [the idea] this land is special land, that it has community history and is owned by the community; it’s not vacant, it’s green space and it’s recreational space…that was all important in making this shift happen.” 

The land was gifted to the Chelsea Foundation by Elizabeth Meredith around 25 years ago to be used as a recreational hub in perpetuity and was paid for by community donations. Duguid has previously estimated that thousands of hours of volunteer work have gone into making the land a valuable asset for the whole community.

Now that the site has been renegotiated, Duguid told the Low Down that she believes the issue of expropriation has been avoided. She added that she hopes the CSSPO and the Foundation will be able to agree to share the school’s parking lot in the future. 

“Nothing has been signed yet,” she qualified, but said the Foundation is hopeful the space can continue to be shared to meet the community’s recreational needs. 

Councillors weigh in 

Chelsea Coun. Enrico Valente was the only member of council to vote against a resolution to take over the Foundation’s soccer field back in October 2023. He is one of the founding members of the Chelsea Foundation and said that, while he sees the modified site plan as “a good compromise in order to bring the community together,” he added, “I cannot hide my disappointment that any of that land acquired by the community would be chopped up.”

Valente said that he voted against the original resolution because he felt the municipality had not done enough due diligence to make such an important financial decision. 

“I believe in proper planning and critical fiscal analysis for all important decisions, especially multi-million-dollar decisions like this one,” he said. 

“There are still numerous steps to be fulfilled, including the actual sale of the land at market value and ensuring that any further attempts to take additional lands will be legally locked out,” Valente continued. 

Councillor for the centre village, Dominic Labrie, said that, based on feedback he’s heard from constituents, “families in the centre village are pleased with this good news. They're especially focused on the project's tight schedule. We need the school to open in 2026, if some children are not to go to elementary school outside the municipality.”

The CSSPO estimates that 300 children will need placement in a French elementary school by 2026. Grand Boisé, the community’s only other French-language school, is currently at capacity. The future school will be able to welcome around 380 students in 16 classes, according to the CSSPO. 


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