A review is currently underway to determine if Dickson Public School in Cambridge should close.

The decision will be made once an accommodation review has been completed.

The reviews are mandated by the province to help school boards balance their budgets, while dealing with issues like dropping enrollment and outdated or underused space.

Dickson Public School, which was built in 1876, is one of the oldest and smallest of five schools currently under review in the West Galt area.

“We’re not able to accommodate as many kids in those facilities anymore,” says Lauren Manske, at the Waterloo Region District School Board. “It becomes a challenge to offer the program that we want to be able to offer.”

Parent Vince Dwyer is hoping to convince trustees that the school should remain open. “We want to help save this school and keep it around for our kids.”

However the Ministry of Education points to declining enrollment numbers in Ontario schools. There are 127,220 fewer students in elementary and secondary schools in Ontario than there were ten years ago.

The province mandated the accommodation reviews to address those statistics, putting out its most recent guidelines in 2009. Parents, teachers and board members participate in the review process.

Reviews are currently underway in West Galt, Wellesley and Woolwich Townships.

Across the province, 142 schools are being reviewed, 33 have been recommended to close, and 92 are set to close. That’s according to a report by People for Education.

The Waterloo District School Board says enrollment at area school has been steady, although some schools – like Dickson – are under-capacity. Even if it had full capacity, at 160 students, the board says it still wouldn’t meet the education system’s average goals.

“The target population size for a JK-6 facility is around 300-400 students,” says Manske.

A final report by the accommodation review committee also says Dickson Public School needs upgrades and expansions. It mentioned mobility access and structural issues in the gym.

Parents are concerned about the repercussions if Dickson Public School does indeed close. Students would be bused to four other area schools, splitting up some friendships.

Trustees are expected to vote on whether Dickson Public School should close at a meeting later this fall.

The board says the building would not be demolished, because it’s a designated heritage property.

A very different fate awaits another Cambridge school facing closure. Grand View Public School in Preston was demolished, and a new school built in its place. A part of the façade, which dates back to the 1920s, was kept as part of the new design. The new school cost approximately $7 million.

“The money that we spend upfront, certainly, the figure sounds very high. But we are spending over the years, several dollars in order to maintain older facilities,” says Manske. “When we have a new facility, the maintenance costs go down substantially, based on the new infrastructure we can put in place.”

Coming up in part two: Why one school in Kitchener was closed, so another newly-renovated school could re-open.