River John First committee member makes pitch for school

Sueann Musick
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PICTOU – The fate of River John Consolidated School weighs heavily on the future of the small village, says a member of a community action group.

Rev. Greg Dixon told county councillors that members of River John First can see a bright future for the community, but if it loses its school, the effects could be devastating because it would be difficult to attract new people to the area.

River John Consolidated is currently under a school review process and will be looked at again in June 2015 to determine if it will remain open or close for good. Dixon said the school is in need of some extensive repairs that include repairs to the roof, parking lot and work to meet the fire code regulations. The cost of repairs is estimated at between $300,00 and $600,000.

“Please consider the need to make our school safe and sound,” he said. “If we don't do that, there is no opportunity for growth in River John and we won’t be able to attract children and families to that school.”

Dixon didn’t make a formal plea for any funding at the council meeting Monday, but he said any kind of help from council would be greatly appreciated. He said it’s important for councillors to be aware of what is happening in River John so they can speak out for its future.

Carolyn MacIntosh of the Municipality of Pictou County said the county gives a mandatory donation to the education fund each year, but how that money is spent is up to the Chignecto Central Regional School Board.

River John Consolidated is one of five schools the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board is considering closing. A year ago, the board released a report to the school advisory committees of each school on the chopping block. In River John’s report, it stated the board has two options: option one would be to keep River John Consolidated open. Option two would be to close River John Consolidated and relocate all students to Scotsburn Elementary, West Pictou Consolidated, Tatamagouche Elementary, North Colchester High School and Northumberland Regional High School.

However, a study committee asked the school board to consider giving the community five years to implement a program that would see the school turn into a hub for the business community and other organizations to use unused portions of the school. It said it would be an opportunity for the community to generate income that would offset the board’s costs of running the school.

In addition to funding for repairs, Dixon said students attending school outside River John have to return to the village so the school will be better utilized.

He said there are as many as 20 children who could be attending school at River John Consolidated but are travelling to Pictou West or Tatamagouche because they are afraid River John will eventually close.

Dixon said the River John First committee will be making a formal application to the Municipality of Pictou County in the fall for $50,000 to be used to develop marketing material and help with travel expenses as members travel to meet with prospective businesses.

“It will be a bit of a road show,” he said. “We want to have a video and some web presence and we will be travelling to meet with groups, conferences and industries that might do well in our area.”

For example, he said, the ever-expanding IT business or software development companies don’t need to work in big cities and could make a comfortable workspace out of River John.

Dixon told council that the River John area has great potential to be more than what it is, but word needs to spread quickly before it’s too late to do anything.

He said a new distillery is planning to open which could be a “game changer” for the area with new employment opportunities, while Jost winery is close by, its public library is well used and the village is close to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Halifax.

However, he added, the first thing that needs to be done is to have a meeting with school board to determine what kind of plan it thinks might work for the school to become a hub.

The River John First committee has been asked to meet with the school board’s operations board the end of March, he said, so after this it should be able to firm up some numbers as to what is needed to make the project work.

County councillors said they supported what River John First was trying to accomplish and wished the committee good luck in the future.

“I encourage you to keep trying,” said Coun. David Parker. “You have a big job but you have the support of council around you.”

Organizations: Chignecto Central Regional School Board, River John First committee

Geographic location: River John, Pictou County, Tatamagouche Chignecto Scotsburn Colchester Northumberland Pictou West Prince Edward Island New Brunswick Halifax

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