The closure of J.E. Benson elementary school has all but become a reality. The 96-yearold school is in disrepair, but where will its 309 students go?
The recommendation to close J.E. Benson elementary school comes as no surprise to residents. The 96-year-old building has been in disrepair for years. The lockers don’t close. The plaster is peeling in the library and the auditorium is permanently closed because the balcony might be a safety hazard.
What stunned neighbours Friday was a preliminary recommendation by an accommodation committee proposing to bus students to other schools instead of relocating them in a replacement school nearby.
“You see the restaurants and convenience stores? The kids are important to the economy,” said Mohammed Akbar, 19, a graduate of Benson and son of the owner of Lena Photo Stu- dio on Wyandotte Street West, half a block from the school. “At lunch, they buy pizza or candy.”
Akbar said the school board would never have considered sending the students to H.D. Taylor or other area schools if the economy hadn’t imploded and forced people to move away.
“Four years ago this area was much more thriving,” Akbar said. “As a graduate, I’m sad to see it close. I have a lot of personal history there.”
Akbar’s older brother and sister graduated from Benson as well.
Monique Jackson’s daughter December, 3, was due to start junior kindergarten at Benson next fall. Benson is convenient for the mother of two because she lives on Cameron Avenue, one block from the school.
“I was thinking of putting her in French immersion school so she could have another language,” said Jackson, also a Benson graduate. “They bus the kids, don’t they? As long as (December) gets a good education, that’s all I’m worried about.”
The Greater Essex County District School Board has yet to decide Benson’s future, but it’s a foregone conclusion the school will close.
Several years ago the school board had Benson declared “too prohibitive to repair,” which means it was more costly to renovate the school than to build a new one. Officials planned to build a replacement school next to Adie Knox Herman recreation centre, raze Benson and turn it into a park. But then the sluggish economy set in and enrolment went into free-fall.
Financially, the board can’t get the province to approve construction of a new school when there are vacancies at many of its elementary schools, said Terry Lyons, superintendent of education.