• Rob Hornberger

Board of education tight-lipped over delays building Kingsville's K-12 school

Updated: Feb 3

Officials refuse to say if higher construction costs have held up the $48-million project
A rendering of the planned K-12 school on Jasperson Lane is shown in an image from an Essex County District School Board video production.

KINGSVILLE — Citing confidentiality rules, local board of education officials are refusing to say why construction of the new $48-million school in Kingsville has been delayed.

Scott Scantlebury, spokesman for the Greater Essex County District School Board, said the board has closed requests for tenders and is reviewing the bids from contractors — a process he said is held in-camera and cannot be discussed in public.

Asked whether the delay is a result of bids higher than the $48 million allocated for the school, Scantlebury said he couldn’t comment.

He also refused to say if the board is planning to pare back plans for the school in order to stay on budget.

The board originally hoped the school, approved for construction in 2016, would be open as early as September 2023. But construction has been estimated to take two years, meaning the earliest the school could open would be sometime in 2024.

At Monday’s Kingsville council meeting, Richard Wyma, director of planning services, said the town is working with the school architect on design changes and the final look of the building.

Scantlebury said he couldn’t discuss whether the board has approached the Ministry of Education for more funding in light of a rise in building materials costs caused by inflation and supply chain delays.

At the board’s Jan. 18 meeting, Kingsville-area school trustee Julia Burgess asked board administration about supply chain bottlenecks and the procurement of building supplies.

“So my question is that there is obviously an impact on our procurement and projects that may be delayed through no fault of our own because the global supply chain has been disrupted,” she said.

“So, I’m wondering if we as a board … have advocated for either increased GSNs (Grants for Student Needs) or capital funding to recognize that this next year, the next few years, who knows, will have inflationary costs.”

Board treasurer and superintendent of business Shelley Armstrong told the board meeting that there is “no doubt” disrupted supply chains have “created issues.”

She cited labour shortages, inflationary pressures and fluctuating prices for building materials as factors increasing potential costs.

“But that being said, we acknowledge that the construction benchmarks that are funded by the (Ministry of Education), they are low, and not reflective of the realities we are facing.”

“But that being said, we acknowledge that the construction benchmarks that are funded by the (Ministry of Education), they are low, and not reflective of the realities we are facing.”

She said the Ontario Association of School Business Officials has regular meetings with the ministry to discuss inflationary pressures on capital projects.

Ministry spokesperson Ingrid Anderson said the ministry recognizes the rising costs caused by labour shortages and supply chain delays.

"As such, these two factors are resulting in a volatile market impacting construction costs," she said by email.

Anderson said the ministry is monitoring the situation and will work with local school boards on funding capital projects.

"The ministry increased the benchmark funding for the 2021-22 capital priorities projects to reduce the gap between the capital priorities benchmark funding and the construction index," she added.

Armstrong told trustees last week the board has a strong procurement team.

“They have been working with our contractors to make sure we have a supply in advance,” she told board trustees.

“So for a lot of this work … we may procure it in advance so we can lock in prices, so we’ve tried that as well.”

Burgess added her voice to Kingsville council’s request for an update on when construction will begin on the K-12 school.

“I think if you have difficult news, hard news, happy news, whatever it is, you need to get that out there,” she said in an interview.

Burgess noted the new high school in Amherstburg was approved by the ministry after the Kingsville school and is slated to open this September.

Earlier this week, town council voted to send a letter to the board asking for information on a construction start date and when the school would open.

Deputy Mayor Gord Queen said there had been a breakdown in communications.

Like Scantlebury, Burgess said she is bound by the Education Act and cannot discuss in-camera questions dealing with tenders.

Scantlebury said the board will make a statement about construction of the Kingsville school once it has something concrete to announce.

He said the school will be built.

Burgess said she intends to raise the issue of inflationary costs today when she attends a virtual meeting of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.

She said the minister of education, Steven Lecce, will be attending and she intends asking him about increases in funding for capital projects.

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