The Mayor of Memramcook has launched a two-pronged attack against the Higgs government’s rumoured plan to sell one of the village’s most historic buildings to a private buyer.
During a public meeting today, Michel Gaudet called on the provincial government to give his village first right of refusal in any potential sale of the Memramcook Institute, site of the first Acadian university and a centre of French-Canadian history and culture.
Gaudet also revealed plans to use part of the Institute and its extensive grounds as the site of a privately run, bilingual high school that could serve 350-400 Canadian and international students.
“We have been working on this for about a year,” Gaudet said, adding that the provincial government is fully aware of the project.
“Today, the big thing is to say that the announcement is two-fold,” the mayor said.
“One, we strongly oppose the sale of the Memramcook Institute and that we want first right of refusal if there is an offer, and two, is the announcement that we are working on this project for a bilingual, private school in the community.”
Gaudet bristled at suggestions from Progressive Conservative candidate Carole Duguay that the village was reacting to rumours based on fear in the midst of a provincial election campaign.
“If you were in my shoes and sitting here today and the possibility of losing the Memramcook Institute forever,” the mayor replied, “I would be very, very, very disappointed that you would not do the same thing.”
Gaudet pointed to the three candidates in the room, Duguay of the PCs, Maxime Bourgeois of the Liberals and Megan Mitton of the Green Party and called on them to defend the Institute and oppose its sale to a private buyer.
“We need to do what’s right for Memramcook and anybody that knows Memramcook or is from Memramcook knows the history behind the Memramcook Institute,” he said.
Duguay responded that, as owner of the Institute, the provincial government will have to evaluate all potential buyers to see which proposal is best. She urged the village to submit its plan and promised that if she’s elected she would be in a position to make sure it’s evaluated fairly.
After the meeting, both Bourgeois and Mitton expressed support for the idea of a bilingual private school.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Bourgeois said, “and most importantly it’s a project that’s coming from the municipality, it’s a project that’s coming from the community.”
“I agree with the key points that the Mayor of Memramcook made,” Mitton said, “that the building should not be sold and that the community needs to have a say and be able to use part of the space.”
She was referring to the village’s previous proposal to set up a community centre in the building.
(Mayor Gaudet made it clear today that the village still wants space for the community centre, preservation of the Institute’s historic chapel as well as a bilingual high school.)
“It is interesting to see a proposal around continuing the legacy of education that started in Le Collège Saint-Joseph and the Memramcook Institute be continued and carried forward and I’m hearing a lot of support around that in the community,” Mitton said.
Two of the leaders behind the the private, bilingual high school outlined details of the project during today’s meeting.
Aurel Schofield, a retired Moncton doctor who served as founding dean of the medical school at the Université de Moncton, said later during an interview that he’s been working on the project for more than a year and that so far, the first half of a market or feasibility study has been completed.
“The first phase, which is the qualitative phase, has been done with focus groups in Ontario, Quebec, Maritimes and in France in both languages and the results are very interesting because there’s lots of interest out there for this type of school,” he said, adding that plans call for small classes of 15 students that follow the Canadian standards for independent schools with an advanced International Baccalaureate program.
The school, which would function as a non-profit corporation, would be funded by annual tuition fees that could range from $10,000 to $20,000 as well as business donations.
Bernard Cormier, a retired business executive who is another partner in the project, says the school could be up and running in two or three years.
“I guess the unique thing here is that it will be bilingual which you do not see anywhere in Canada,” Schofield said.
It would be nice to see old historic buildings like this being repurposed, but in this case the proposal is to make it a private high school for children of wealthy families. How many families could afford a $10,000 – $20,000 annual tuition fee? Are the organizers of this initiative planning some form of scholarship or bursary that would enable children from less affluent families to attend the high school? How much government money has already gone into the renovation of this building? This looks like a plan that the likes of Betsy Devos would propose – to divert public money to a private school for children from wealthy families. In these times of an ever widening gap between the haves and have nots, I am disappointed that none of the candidates present expressed any concern about this.