From left, Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education, Trevor Jones, Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP, and Fulvio Valentinis, chair of the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, at St. Louis Catholic Elementary School in Leamington in May of 2023. The WECDSB recently opened a new six-classroom addition at St. Louis. Photo courtesy WECDSB

Ontario Catholic schools see enrolment boom

  • June 9, 2024

The Ministry of Education’s 2023-24 Capital Priorities Program is helping Ontario’s Catholic school boards alleviate overcrowding in schools and helping offset an expected rise in enrolment.

The initiative, launched in August 2023, assists school boards in tackling infrastructure projects as student populations, particularly outside the Greater Toronto Area, continue to grow.

Multiple public Catholic school boards have turned to the Government of Ontario for funds to help ease their increasing accommodation pressures and structural challenges. One is the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, north of Toronto, which has received nearly $100 million towards four projects aiming to address growing needs.

“This funding will enable our board to continue providing high-quality, faith-filled education in state-of-the-art facilities that meet the needs of our growing communities,” said a news release from the Simcoe Muskoka board, which will receive about $97.5 million to build a new elementary school and childcare centre in Angus, a new K-12 school in Wasaga Beach, an addition to Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Bradford and a 12-classroom and single gym addition to Tottenham’s St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School.

“This funding represents tremendous opportunities for our current and future students and their families,” said board chair Maria Hardie. “We are excited to see the impact of these new and improved facilities, fostering environments where students can thrive.”

London is another area that has seen rapid and unanticipated population growth over the past few years, with a report from Statistics Canada last month showing the southwestern Ontario city’s census metropolitan area had an estimated population of 608,343 — a rise of more than 40,000 since the 2021 census. 

“It is happening all around us. Whether in London or one of the surrounding communities like Woodstock, St. Thomas and Strathroy, they all just keep growing,” said Deborah Jordan, executive superintendent of business at the London Catholic District School Board. 

As with other smaller towns, London and surrounding area is seeing a rise in population from a variety of factors: immigration, an influx of international students and an exodus from the GTA. Now, the board is beginning to feel the effects of the surge. 

“We are predicting a little over a full five-per-cent increase which will equate to about 1,400 new students this fall,” Jordan said. 

To accommodate the growth, the board is expanding two elementary schools — St. Anne's in St. Thomas and St. Michael’s in Woodstock. Three new elementary schools have been scheduled for construction and a new secondary school will be constructed on the site of Regina Mundi Catholic College. 

The funds are sizeable. Education Minister Stephen Lecce confirmed in April the province would invest $1.3 billion to support the construction and expansion of 60 schools across the province. This more than doubles the previous funding commitment with the money set to create over 27,000 new student spaces and more than 1,700 childcare spaces.

“These additions will provide our students across the board with great learning spaces and ones that are conducive to giving them the proper education that they need,” Jordan said. 

It’s a far cry from just a few short years ago for many boards, said Stephen Fields, communications coordinator for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board.

“It was not that long ago when I started with the board that we were wrapping up accommodation review committees where we were closing and consolidating schools. Things have dramatically changed here economically,” he said. 

Fields credits projects like Windsor's new electric vehicle battery plant that is set to finish construction this summer as one of the leading causes of growth, along with the influx of immigrants. 

“Apart from the plant, we have seen a lot of new Canadians that have come into the area from all over the world. You do see some people relocating from the GTA, and there has even been some movement over the last few years with people locating here from western Canada as well,” he said. “We are in a desirable location and we do not expect it to slow down any time soon, but we will continue to keep an eye on enrolment trends, our facilities and our capacity.”

St. Joseph’s Catholic High School will benefit from provincial funds. Initially built in 2006 to accommodate 1,100 students, it is 200 students over that limit. An investment of $3.7 million will add eight new classrooms. 

Boards are hoping the provincial funds will provide the best possible conditions for students to continue their pursuit of Catholic education. 

“Being in a more comfortable learning environment helps students in terms of their academic success as being overly crowded is not conducive to learning and those students aren’t going to flourish necessarily. I think just having that extra space to spread out and utilize different areas of your building for different programs is always an extra added bonus to have,” said Fields. 

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