More school closures likely as Sarnia’s population falls

Pam Wright

The closure of more Sarnia schools and the creation of a one-track French Immersion school are among the options currently under consideration by Lambton Kent District School Board.

The problem continues to be declining student enrolment, said superintendent Gary Girardi, who is responsible for capital planning and accommodation.

“We believe if we have fewer schools that are more full, the LKDSB is in a better position to offer our students success.”

The board has the equivalent of 1,100 empty spaces at its schools.

No decisions have been made, and the board is reviewing ideas gleaned from an online “thoughtexchange” that invited public input on the future of schools.

The results of the exercise, which drew 622 responses, will be released in May, Girardi said.

A single-track French Immersion school — meaning the school would use French only — has some support among trustees, he added.

The Sarnia school would be patterned after Petrolia’s Hillcrest school, currently the board’s only French-only school.

“It’s working very well,” he said.

Sarnia currently has three public elementary schools — Cathcart Boulevard, High Park and Errol Road — offering dual-track programs in English and French.

“We’re just asking questions and making people aware,” Girardi said. “We are looking at it.”

Declining enrolment isn’t the only issue facing the board. Aging buildings is another problem that must be addressed, he added.

Study predicts Sarnia’s population will continue to decline

The declining enrolment trend in local schools won’t end anytime soon, a recent population study by Lambton County suggests.

In fact, the report based on census date predicts the City of Sarnia won’t grow at all between now and 2036 and is more likely to continue to see its population declines.

Sarnia had 71,594 residents in the 2016 census, the most recent.

Under the best-case scenario, the population would flat-line at 71,518 over the next 20 years. But it’s more probable the number of residents will slip to 67,323, and could it fall to as low as 63,321, according to the county’s projections.

What gives city officials pause is that a similar county report done in 2012 proved to be accurate. Sarnia’s population has experienced a slight decline, as predicted, over those years.

The projections for Lambton County also envision a decrease in population by 2036, with a mid-range estimate of 113,057, a low of 108,352 and high of 117,918.

Two Lambton municipalities have bucked the trend between 2011 and 2016, the census found.

Petrolia’s population grew 3.5% to 5,735 and Plympton-Wyoming increased 2.8% to 7,780.