By Chris Marchand
A plan to convert the former Pinewood School into a high school transition boarding school for First Nations youth from remote communities will meet with opposition when it comes before Dryden City Council in a public meeting, May 15.
A group of residents from the neighbourhood surrounding Pinewood School has organized a petition stating their opposition to the rezoning of the property and are hastily collecting signatures to demonstrate support for their position. The group submitted just under 700 signatures to the city this Wednesday in order to appear as a delegation when the matter comes before council at 5 p.m., Tuesday, May 15.
Council has been asked to approve a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow the site to be converted to residential accommodations.
On April 30, approximately 200 people flooded into the gym of the decommissioned school to hear from the project’s proponents — Keewatin Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) and Keewaytinook Okinakanak (KO – Northern Chiefs) — in an information and question and feedback session that lasted nearly three hours.
KPDSB Director of Education Jack McMaster and KO’s Geordi Kakepetum offered details on a plan that would see the school’s south wing converted into accommodations for up to 72 students and four supervisory staff.
Taylor Street resident Wayne Zilkalns speaks for the group. He says emotions are running high on the issue in the neighbourhood.
“It’s heated,” he says. “Anytime you ask somebody, you’re going to spend 20 minutes talking to them about it. There’s been a lot of thought about it and it seems to be on everyone’s lips.”
The school mirrors the concept of the former Northern Eagle School in Ear Falls, which prior to its closing helped Aboriginal students close the academic gaps that often exist when age appropriate youth arrive in urban centres to begin high school.
Zilkalns says that among the residents he’s spoken to, the information session failed to inspire much confidence in the project’s ability to integrate up to 70 youth into the neighbourhood without sufficient details on supervision levels, support for after school activities, discipline policies and much more.
“Most of the people I’ve chatted with walked away from the last meeting with too many unanswered questions,” said Zilkalns. “Nobody has the knowledge yet and they don’t want to proceed ahead with this quickly.”