Local high school looks to expand

Photo by Marco Pedri
Photo by Marco Pedri

Big plans for the future of the Northdale area and Waterloo Collegiate Institute are currently being discussed amongst a partnership between the Waterloo Region District School Board, Wilfrid Laurier University and the City of Waterloo.

The visionary project could include a complete renovation and a new four-storey building for Waterloo Collegiate Institute. The partners are also looking into the possibility of green space, community and recreational space, a performing arts space, a parking garage, health and wellness space and potentially more.

The idea came to life as a result of WCI’s need for a renovation. John Hendry, the school board trustee, explained that the need for upgrades, or even a different school setting, will be essential in the near-future in order for WCI to be able to grow as a school.

“The reality is, when you look at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, it’s surrounded by student housing and virtually all family residential has disappeared,” said Hendry.

Though enrollment levels at WCI have remained consistent throughout the study, it is evident that the school will face declining numbers in the near future.

Laurier and WRDSB, owners of 17 per cent of the Northdale land, approached the City of Waterloo almost a year ago to discuss a potential partnership.

“I agreed that this was a fantastic opportunity to understand what might be possible in this area. We also have some issues as a city that this collaboration could help us achieve and could help us move forward on,” said ward councillor, Jeff Henry.

Shortly after, the City of Waterloo Council approved a 100,000 dollar feasibility study on the Northdale lands.

As the study was largely led by the City of Waterloo, ward councillor Mark Whaley said he feels it is resentful to allow Waterloo citizens to have to pay for a study being done off of city property.

“It’s very upsetting that the citizens of Waterloo are asked to pick up a tab for buildings and infrastructure that is owned by the university and school board,” he said.

After reviewing the proposal and study, Hendry feels that more information needs to be presented in order to convince him that this idea attains the best interest of the school and students, explaining that the benefit of the collective community is the school board’s second priority.

“I’m supporting the vision, but there are also other proposals for the school. There are other options that would also fit in nicely,” he said.

From the City of Waterloo’s perspective, a project such as this could provide numerous community amenities, a significant missing piece for the Northdale area, as well as programs for high school students that go beyond what is normally offered.

Laurier also pitched some intriguing ideas in regards to different faculties that could exist in this area and considered the possibility of adding practical oriented learning environments in which both university and high school students could take part in together.

“We’re trying to create a vibrant and dynamic place that lots of folks want to live in because I think that’s what’s really going to drive success in this neighbourhood: a more diverse neighbourhood, a neighbourhood where things are really happening§ Henry said.

Each partner of the bold vision seemed to share the same financial concern when considering such a large undertaking.

“In a perfect world, why wouldn’t we want to spend 77 million dollars on something amazing. But this is a council that’s capped itself out with respect to projects and to take on another project in Northdale is ludicrous,” said Whaley.

Instead, Whaley suggested that Laurier and the school board put a pause on the plans in Northdale until 2031, when some of the City’s debts will be paid off and taking on such a large project may be more financially feasible for the council.

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