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Consolidated high school gets off to a good start. But that new generic name? Not so much

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Cathy Dobson

Classes began at the consolidated Great Lakes Secondary School this week with more students than anticipated, two portables and some classrooms above capacity.

A total of 1,075 students and 94 staff from the former St. Clair Secondary School and S.C.I.T.S. will spend the coming year at the old Sarnia Collegiate site, waiting to see if provincial funding is approved to renovate the former St. Clair building on Murphy Road.

If money is forthcoming, the Lambton Kent District School Board intends to move the combined student body to the former St. Clair site in 2017 and close the SCITS site permanently.

It’s a controversial plan that continues to dog school trustees, who also agreed to name the consolidated school Great Lakes Secondary last week in a 5-4 vote.

Not a single trustee spoke in favour of the name at the Aug. 30 meeting, and those who voted ‘yes’ said they felt compelled to support the work of a naming committee that worked through the summer before recommending Great Lakes Secondary School.

“I’m not really strongly in favour of the name,” said trustee Jack Fletcher, who nevertheless moved to accept the recommendation.

“I refused to sit on this committee. I won’t give you the reasons why, but I want to know, why not attach a name or reference to either school?”

Trustee Bob Murphy chaired the ad hoc naming committee but was absent from the meeting, and no one in the room offered a rationale for the choice.

Most surprising was trustee Dave Douglas who, as a naming committee member, was asked to proceed in Murphy’s absence.

Douglas refused to present the report or support the recommended name.

“I’ve heard concerns from a lot of people and I haven’t talked to one person in the past month that likes the name,” Douglas said.

“I think we’re making a mistake.”

He asked fellow trustees to postpone a decision but was denied.

A short list of three names – Sarnia Clearwater Collegiate, Bluewater Collegiate and Great Lakes Secondary School, was selected from 145 names submitted by community members in July.

Last month the public was asked to choose among the three contenders and 293 responses were received. Just over half supported Great Lakes Secondary.

The report says the name is geographically relevant and the Great Lakes “exude an image of power and confidence.”

Trustees voting in favour were Chair Jane Bryce, Vice-chair Scott McKinlay, Randy Campbell, Elizabeth Hudie, and Tom McGregor.

Student trustees Keaton Jennings and Ayla Jacobs both supported the name, but their vote is not officially counted.  Jennings, a Grade 12 student at the consolidated school, said later he likes the name.

“It’s very neutral and will work well to pull the two school populations together,” he said.

Trustee Lareina Rising said the name isn’t in compliance with board policy because the school doesn’t serve the entire Great Lakes region. She said the process was flawed and had insufficient community input. She moved to table the naming report to explore more options but was defeated in a 5-4 vote.

Great Lakes Secondary principal Paul Wiersma said the new school year is off to a good start and a committee of students and staff is working to pick a new mascot, colours and team uniforms.

Some senior classes designed for no more than 30 students have 32 enrolled, he said.

“We are using every available space in the building.”

Brian McKay, superintendent of business, said he expects news in October about two grant requests, one to renovate the former St. Clair building and a second to build an entirely new school.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education released an assessment of how much capital is required to repair the two school buildings.

A school with a low ‘Facility Condition Index’ rating means it needs fewer repairs than a school with a higher one.

SCITS has a rating of 22% while St. Clair’s is 38%.

Students returning to class this week at the former SCITS campus on Wellington Street include, from left, Cassidy Nahmabin, Summer Dillon and Jamie Tate. "I don't know why they didn't just name it St. Clair SCITS Consolidated and be done with it," Tate said. Glenn Ogilvie
Students returning to class this week at the former SCITS campus on Wellington Street include, from left, Cassidy Nahmabin, Summer Dillon and Jamie Tate. “I don’t know why they didn’t just name it St. Clair SCITS Consolidated and be done with it,” Tate said.
Glenn Ogilvie

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