By Jessica Lovell
It’s been about a year since Tytler school closed its doors to students, and it could be another year before the local public school board decides what to do with the building.
But that could be good news for some people in the neighbourhood.
“There hasn’t been any decision made” on the fate of the building, said Maggie McFadzen, communications officer for the Upper Grand District School Board.
But one thing is known: “The community group has permission to stay for another year,” she said.
The Two Rivers Neighbourhood Group makes the old red-brick elementary school in the Ward its base of operations and is perhaps the biggest user of the space. The group is grateful to know it will be able to keep using it for another year.
“We are extremely relieved and thankful for another year of being able to use this amazing space,” the group’s neighbourhood support worker, Ryan Ritskes, said in an email.
“There is no other public school in our neighbourhood or other community space that we’ve found which meets all of our needs like Tytler does.”
The school is not the only facility that the neighbourhood group uses, but the majority of its activities seem to revolve around the school.
It is clear from reading the long list of activities in the group’s newsletter that it keeps the building animated. The group has its offices there, and it uses the school to host community dinners, workshops and a variety of ongoing programs, including a seniors’ fitness program, zumba classes and yoga classes.
“They’ve got a long-standing relationship with the board,” said Andrew Seagram, co-ordinator of the board’s Community Use of Schools Program.
This long-standing relationship is one of the reasons that the neighbourhood group is allowed regular access to the space, Seagram said.
But it is not the only group that uses Tytler.
“There’s a church group in there that’s been doing services every Sunday, as well as outreach,” said Seagram.
There is also an organization that runs a reading program for young children, although that program wraps up with the close of the school year, he said.
As well, the board also made use of the school last year as the home of an alternative high school program for students who were struggling in the regular school system.
It is not certain yet whether that program will be back next year, said McFadzen.
These types of programs are “kind of up in the air from year to year,” she said. They are typically pulled together for a certain group of kids, who may not be around or may not need the program the following year, she said.
The old school has also attracted the attention of artsy types.
“It’s a great facility,” said Seagram. “We get lots of requests from people wanting to use it as artists’ space.”
Unfortunately, the board hasn’t been able to provide the regular ongoing access to the building that artists would need.
“We only have limited custodial coverage and it’s costly,” Seagram said.
But even though the board doesn’t make the school rooms available for artists’ studios, artists have still been able to make use of the space.
“We’ve had people come in and do plays,” and there have been musical performances, and an art show, said Seagram.
Hopefully, these kinds of activities will continue throughout the next year, he said.
The neighbourhood group, which will soon be using the school as a base for its summer day camp, is one group that hopes to keep programming going at Tytler for as long as possible.
“We hope to continue using Tytler for as long as we can to build an engaged and sustainable community here in Two Rivers that celebrates the creativity, diversity and passion of our neighbourhood,” said Ritskes.
“An appropriate space for our programs, events and services is essential to what we do, and without the generosity of the UGDSB we wouldn’t be able to be near the resource that we are to the community.”