Chelsea has to build a new French school by 2026. A predicted 300 extra students will need placement in a French elementary school that year. In 2023, Chelsea finally won long-sought-after approval by the local school service centre (CSSPO) for a new school building just in time.
The problem is where the school is going to end up.
Thanks to Bill 40, which passed in 2020, school service centres like the CSSPO can require municipalities to grant them land at no charge for the purposes of building a school.
The CSSPO has a lengthy list of requirements for land that can be used for a school building, including: that it is roughly six acres in size; within the urban perimeter; serviced by water, sewer, gas and electricity; non-contaminated; on land that has less than a five per cent slope and stable soil; and is accessible by bicycle paths, sidewalks and nearby public transit.
The municipality also set requirements, including that the site should be close to municipal buildings and offer the opportunity to share amenities with existing or planned infrastructure such as the municipal library or the Meredith Centre.
The plot of land that the CSSPO and the municipality eventually decided on is located near the Meredith Centre. Two-thirds of the land is owned by the non-profit Chelsea Foundation and contains a soccer field and parking lot. The other third is owned by a local private developer.
At a council meeting on Oct. 30, 2023, Chelsea Mayor Pierre Guénard explained that he was taken aback by the CSSPO’s decision and initially said “that [Chelsea Foundation land] is not an option.” He said that the ministry responded that they were entitled to take the land regardless.
A spokesperson for the CSSPO said that there was an agreement between the service centre and the municipality on the choice of land.
At the meeting on Oct. 30, Guénard emphasized that the community is at risk of losing the opportunity to build a new school, which it desperately needs, if it does not accept the CSSPO’s decision.
On Oct. 30, Guénard explained why other seemingly viable plots of land in the town centre were rejected for the school site, but the community has questions, some of which are included in a Letter to the Editor appearing in this paper (see page 4).
Chelsea has said that land in Farm Point was not formally considered for the school building because it lies too far outside the town’s urban perimeter. It is not included on the map.
Here is our run-down on the sites that were up for consideration and why each was rejected, according to the municipality.
Hendrick Farm – REJECTED: According to the municipality, a plot of land tucked into the Hendrick Farm development, near the intersection of Old Chelsea Road and Hwy 5, was rejected because it wasn’t quite big enough. “It was very, very tight,” Mayor Pierre Guénard explained at a council meeting on Oct. 30. The land doesn’t afford the opportunity to expand, meaning it is not an ideal place for a school that will eventually require additions to keep up with a growing population.
Chelsea Creek – REJECTED: As in Hendrick Farm, this plot of land in the Chelsea Creek subdivision is also situated between Old Chelsea Road and Hwy 5. The problem in this case, according to Mayor Guénard, is that it is too close to the highway exit. He explained that the site was rejected by CSSPO for safety reasons.
Behind the curling club – REJECTED: The land behind the Curling des Collines’ building, not far from Chelsea Elementary and the Meredith Centre, would certainly fulfill the municipality's requirements for being close to other municipal buildings and shareable amenities. It was ultimately rejected because the slope of the ground is greater than five per cent, making it non-viable according to the CSSPO’s criteria.
Behind La Fab sur Mill – REJECTED: This site, situated behind La Fab sur Mill on Mill Road and the CLSC building off of Hwy 105, appears to match a lot of the CSSPO’s criteria, although it is apparently situated on unstable soil, according to information presented at a council meeting on Oct. 30. This means that it cannot accommodate a building as large and with as many safety requirements as a school.
Chelsea Foundation land – APPROVED: The land that was ultimately approved for the new school is partially owned by a charity – the Chelsea Foundation – and has a popular soccer field and parking lot situated on it. Unlike the other sites on this map, the Chelsea Foundation land cannot be described as “vacant.” The Low Down asked Mayor Guénard how the land came to be considered by the CSSPO, given that it is charity-owned and in regular use, but did not receive a response by publication deadline.