Sports academy nixed by town

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

A proposal for a sports academy with secondary school academic classes at the former high school in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been turned down.

Last year, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake went looking for ideas from the public for “unique and creative” uses of the former Niagara District Secondary School property on Niagara Stone Road.


The deadline for submissions was August, with a report to council expected by October, but although throughout the fall, council agendas included several closed-door meetings to discuss the property, there has been no report and no public discussion.

As part of a group who submitted an expression of interest to the town by the August deadline, Ray Guy is frustrated. He had no response until December, when he received word that the town was not interested in pursuing his group's proposal.

He and Dave Dick, two local residents long interested in returning secondary school education to NOTL, had presented the concept of a not-for-profit sports academy that would draw international students interested in developing their tennis and basketball skills. Two sports figures, Leslie Murch and Mihai Raducanu, both with experience in running successful sports schools, were involved in the proposal and would be coaches, with Murch as principal. But the school would also offer a high standard secondary school education, said Guy, with top quality teachers and classes limited to 15 students. It would be open to local students, whether or not they were interested in pursuing the athletic training offered, which could expand to include other sports.

The sports element and international students would help finance the top-notch secondary school education, said Guy, making classes affordable for locals. The school would also have offered bursaries.

There were four expressions of interest submitted. Guy says he has no way of knowing whether all the proposals will eventually be made public, or only the one that is chosen - if there is one that is successful.

He said the information accompanying the request for expressions of interest clearly stated the town is under no obligation to give reasons for turning down a proposal, or to make public those not chosen. But it concerns him that the process has been so secretive, and that the public may never know what the alternatives were before council.

At the first stage of the process, the committee was to be looking for applicants who could demonstrate they have the experience, expertise and financial capability to successfully develop the property and how well their proposals contribute to the local community.

He felt the sports academy proposal demonstrated those qualities, with two experienced members who have proven success in the field of education.

The best ranking submissions were to move to stage two – a request for more detailed proposals, and Guy was disappointed that he and the others in his group were never given an opportunity to have any further discussion with the committee, which includes Lord Mayor Pat Darte, two councillors and senior staff.

The 28-acre site on Niagara Stone Road was purchased by the town for $1.67 million from the District School Board of Niagara in February 2015. The building, which once held 1,500 students, is now vacant.

There is a wide range of potential uses for the institutionally-zoned property including housing units, outdoor recreational facilities, a hospital, a seniors’ home, a church, a zoo and a cemetery, in addition to educational facilities.

Don MacDougall, a retired school teacher and former night school principal, was also involved in the sports academy proposal.

"This would have been so easy to do," said MacDougall. "It's being done all the time. The high school is a huge building - it's perfect for what we wanted to do, and this town is the perfect place to do it. It's a no-brainer. We should be doing what's best for the 2,500 kids in town, but it seems to me nobody is thinking about the kids."


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