HALIFAX – The stalled River Hebert school construction project has a new boss.
The province announced Thursday it is taking over management of the project from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board.
“The government is really eager for this project to move forward as quickly as possible. It’s been a very long and complex project,” Carole Olsen, deputy minister of education, said Thursday. “Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has a lot of resources within that department that they can focus and devote on this project to make sure it moves forward.”
Olson stressed the province’s decision has nothing to do with how the school board handled the file. She said the province is cognizant of how anxious the community is about the school and is well aware of fears the project won’t be completed.
“The province and the government have heard the angst in the community and how it wants this project to be completed. There have been complications in terms of getting all the right pieces in place to move it forward. In becoming the project manager, TIR will put the resources in to move the project forward as quickly as possible so it can be completed,” Olsen said.
Olsen does not have a firm timeline on when tenders will be called, but because TIR has made a commitment to it, she expects it to happen in the next few weeks. She said it’s too early to say when construction will resume on the project that has been stalled in January 2012 when tenders for the second phase of the project came in 45 per cent higher than budgeted.
As part of the project, the province will examine how the concept of a community hub school can be applied to the current design to provide the best education experience for students and maximum long-term benefit for the community.
She said part of the hub concept would be listening to what the community wants in the renovated school, but she said the first priority is getting the tenders called.
“This is positive step forward and the students and the community will be served well once we get this project completed and the students moved in,” she said.
School board spokeswoman Debbie Buott-Matheson said the board was surprised by the announcement.
“We are unaware at this time as to why the project has been removed from CCRSB’s oversight,” she said in an email to the Amherst News.
Buott-Matheson said the bard completed all the necessary information for the requests for proposals in June and it has been waiting since then for the province to move forward and issue the request for proposals.
She said operational services staff has been working “incredibly hard over the past three years to keep this project moving. They have dedicated nights, weekends, vacations and family time to try and get the work completed on this project and to meet the requests for information from stakeholders.”
The project, she added, has been stretched over three years, leaving students and staff in “an increasingly more difficult position. Their patience through all of this has to be commended.”
The board, she said, is hopeful the project will be completed for the students, staff and community.
Mike McLellan, who represents the area on county council, said the community is breathing a sigh of relief.
“It just shows what this community can accomplish when it works together. We weren’t going to lose this without a fight. We’ve already lost too much,” he said.
McLellan said a group of River Hebert residents were preparing to head to Halifax on Thursday afternoon to picket Premier Darrell Dexter’s office when he got word that the province is taking over the project’s management.
A public meeting had also been scheduled for Monday at the River Hebert legion to discuss the project, but that has now been cancelled.