Aldo DiCarlo

County, town making new arrangements regarding integrity commissioners

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The County of Essex is looking at obtaining a new integrity commissioner in light of requirements from the province’s Bill 68.

The bill mandates that municipalities shall have an integrity commissioner by March 1, 2019. Prior to that, according to a report from the county’s director of council services/clerk Mary Birch, integrity commissioners are optional.

“The County of Essex currently contracts the services of an integrity commissioner, however that contract expires in 2018. A joint RFP with some of the local municipalities has recently closed and submissions are being reviewed by a joint evaluation committee,” Birch stated in her report. “Administration will be providing a subsequent report recommending the appointment of an integrity commissioner and propose some amendments to the Council Code of Conduct.”

County council also resolved to continue to prohibit electronic meeting participation, pending further clarification of the definition of “participation” and improvements to technology available; to develop parental leave policy for members of county council and to approve proposed rules for temporary replacement members of county council.

This comes shortly after the Town of Amherstburg voted to continue its relationship with integrity commission Bruce Elman.

Elman, who first began doing work on Amherstburg’s behalf midway through last year, could become the town’s integrity commissioner should a cost sharing agreement be finalized with Windsor.

“All we really did was reappoint him and put in for cost sharing with the City of Windsor to make it more affordable,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We agreed to renew him and see about cost sharing with the city.”

Clerk Paula Parker noted that the previous integrity commissioner was Robert Swayze but that contract was terminated early at the direction of council May 8, 2017.

“On June 12, 2017, administration was directed to seek the expertise of the city’s integrity commissioner to investigate two outstanding integrity complaints and any further complaints that may arise until a new integrity commissioner could be appointed,” said Parker.

“At the time, I believe the city was using Bruce Elman,” added DiCarlo. “We came across him, he’s got a good reputation, so we switched.”

Parker stated that “the new amendments to the Municipal Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act brought on by Bill 68, make the appointment of an integrity commissioner mandatory, whereby the municipality has to appoint its own or share the services of another. His/her scope of responsibilities will also increase upon being proclaimed into force on March 1, 2019. In light of these changes and the town’s recent dealings with Professor Bruce Elman, administration recommended that his services be shared between the town and the city.”

Town council votes to contract out policing services to Windsor

 

By Ron Giofu

 

In a decision that drew boos and catcalls from the audience, Amherstburg town council is switching its’ policing services to Windsor.

Town council voted 3-2 Monday night to enter into a 20-year contract with the Windsor Police Service in a meeting that lasted only about 30 minutes. Voting in favour were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Leo Meloche and Rick Fryer.

Councillors Joan Courtney and Jason Lavigne were opposed.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget did not vote due to being in conflict. Pouget was there in person, declaring conflict due to her son-in-law being a member of the Windsor Police Service while DiPasquale was absent from the meeting.

DiCarlo said that “we’ve hit the second last stage of the process,” noting that the switch from the Amherstburg Police Service to the Windsor Police Service still has to be approved by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC). That could come by 2019, when the contract with Windsor is due to begin.

“Obviously, some things are going to hinge on the approval of the province,” the mayor stated.

The switch is believed to amount to over $567,000 in annual savings but DiCarlo said that could amount to $18-20 million over 20 years, including the long-term post-retirement benefits that Windsor taxpayers will now absorb.

DiCarlo said he heard from many residents that wanted to switch to Windsor and for the town to save money on policing. Cost savings and cost containment were the reasons he said he voted in favour of the switch, noting Windsor committed to cost parity and the savings “could actually go up” in the future.

A report from CAO John Miceli stated: “The Windsor Police will guarantee cost parity will exist between the annual operating budget of the Windsor Police Service and the cost of contract policing the Town of Amherstburg. This guarantee of budgetary parity would commence in year six and be honoured throughout the twenty year commitment for policing services, subject to renewal every five years.”

Many decisions the town makes are now looked at not just for the immediate future, but for 15-20 years down the road, the mayor said.

Acknowledging that he fielded threats from the public that warned they would not vote for him if he voted to switch, DiCarlo said he has never voted on an issue just to win votes regardless of what position he was in.

“I can honestly say I’ve never voted with the intent of getting re-elected,” he said.

While Windsor police will provide a wide array of services for free, DiCarlo said the OPP has changed their billing model and there was concern that the Amherstburg Police Service could start getting billed in the future if OPP services were needed.

“This was a couple of municipalities that saw the benefits for both of us,” he said of Windsor and Amherstburg. “For Amherstburg, we get the same level of policing for less money.”

DiCarlo balked when asked if this could lead to regional policing in Windsor-Essex County, but said he has heard that other municipalities in the area are “watching to see what happens.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo speaks to the media after the Feb. 26 vote that saw council vote 3-2 to contract policing services to Windsor. DiCarlo and councillors Leo Meloche and Rick Fryer were in favor. Voting in opposition were Councillor Jason Lavigne and Councillor Joan Courtney.

Lavigne said the issue has “consumed quite a bit of our lives” from both a council and administration perspective to the public point of view as well.

“It’s been a very difficult decision to have been placed on our shoulders,” he said. “I’ll respect the decision of council. I won’t criticize it.”

Stating that administration “did a good job” and calling the Windsor police proposal “sound,” Lavigne said he was opposed to switching because he didn’t hear from very many people who supported it. He said people want to keep the Amherstburg Police Service and he was going to listen to them.

“I was put here because of the people in the community,” said Lavigne. “People can claim silent majorities all they want to. The majority of people are saying to me that they don’t care about the costs, they want to support their local police.”

Lavigne said the town has spent money on property acquisitions and new hires this term but want to save money in the area of policing. Acknowledging he has been accused of bias because he is on the Amherstburg Police Services Board, he added that Amherstburg police is efficient and the community is safe.

“(The public) has told me they are comfortable with what we have,” said Lavigne.

Meloche said a lot of communities are struggling with police costs and he took the approach that the town’s financial sustainability has to be considered.

“That’s the direction I took,” said Meloche.

Pointing out the town’s status as one of the safest in Canada, Meloche said that isn’t just about the police department.

“We have the safest community in Canada, and no disrespect to the police, it’s because of the people here,” said Meloche, drawing boos and moans from the crowd. “Don’t sell ourselves short. We’re law-abiding, safe people.”

Courtney said she had to be “true to myself” and said she considered the issue carefully.

“I vowed I would listen to the people,” said Courtney.

Most of the comments Courtney said she heard were “we want to keep our local police service” and that was the “overwhelming message” she received.

“Do I think it’s a good contract? Yes, I do,” she said of the Windsor police proposal. “Will it save money? Yes, it will.”

Courtney said she would respect the decision and believed Amherstburg will continue to be a “vibrant” town.

Finances were at the forefront of Fryer’s comments.

“We do have fiduciary responsibilities as a council,” Fryer stated.

Fryer said it was “a great contract for the town,” and pointed out the issue dates back to one of council’s first meetings of the term. The town has reduced its debt, he noted, and believed switching will be the right road for the future.

There were only two delegations at the meeting, the first being from Neil Stewart. Stewart had concerns over HST cost and the fact that the recommendation from administration grew from what was thought to be a five-year proposal to a 20-year proposal.

Miceli said he was tasked with getting costs over a 10, 15 and 20-year period and stated that direction came as a result of the four public meetings with some concerned over savings over just a five-year period.

“I find it hard to believe those figures could come up in the last one, two or three weeks,” said Stewart. “It’s hard to believe that happened.”

“I’m sorry if you don’t believe that but that’s what happened,” said Miceli.

Stewart added his belief those costs should have been made public much sooner.

“I don’t believe we’ve been given the full facts,” he believed.

DiCarlo said the timing of the costings was what it was and there was no attempt to “sweeten” the deal to push it through.

Stewart also questioned the cost per capita, noting Windsor police is $480 per person and Amherstburg is $270. Miceli said Amherstburg’s costs will go down with a switch and that Windsor’s costs are higher because of the additional services they provide.

Pat Simone, noting she was speaking for herself and not representing any committee or board she is on, believed the decision should be deferred until a human rights complaint the Windsor Police Service is currently involved with is resolved.

A female officer is accusing Windsor police of passing her over for promotions based on gender, and Simone said Amherstburg officers would follow Windsor police policies and procedures in the event of a switch.

“I’m not saying it’s a women’s issue, but it’s a human rights issue. It concerns men and women,” said Simone.

After the meeting, residents were upset with council’s decision.

Jen Ozyer said the decision was simply about cost, and she questioned if it would improve the town.

“It’s not about making things better. How is it making it better?” she asked.

Trudy Dempsey said she was “really, really upset” with council’s decision.

“I really don’t think they took everything into consideration, all the meetings that people came to and said ‘no,” she said. “They already decided this long before tonight. That’s exactly how I see it.”

George Kritiotis noted it was one step in the process, noting the matter still has to be approved by the OCPC. He suggested the fight wasn’t over.

“That’s who makes the final decision,” he said.

A petition is at several local businesses and “I think there is a significant amount of people who are against it,” said Kritiotis. He added the fact Windsor and Amherstburg don’t share a border could work in the favour of those opposed to a switch.

“This is not a done deal,” said Kritiotis, adding that opponents may also bring up that it wasn’t a full council that voted.

Const. Shawn McCurdy, president of the Amherstburg Police Association, said the process has been stressful but that they will honour the decision.

“I’m still a little shocked about the decision,” said McCurdy.

McCurdy said the job of the association is to protect its members and they did that the best way they could.

“I can assure you the men and women with the Amherstburg Police Service will continue to do their jobs,” he said. “It’s a council decision.”

The association has no choice but to accept the decision, he conceded, adding that officers took an oath and they will continue to honour that oath.

Moving forward, the association will negotiate any severance payments that may be owed and continue to work on behalf of its members and the residents.

During the four public meetings on the subject, in which the majority of residents stated they favoured keeping Amherstburg police, Miceli noted that 23 per cent of the town’s budget is tied up in police costs.

The Windsor police proposal called for administering existing staff in existing organizational units, the continuation of service delivery, existing Amherstburg officers and staff “working exclusively” for Amherstburg, the town being able to keep the existing Amherstburg police station, and local officers continuing to respond to all calls for service.

While there was anger and disappointment from many in the public locally last night, town council’s decision was endorsed by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins.

“Way to go Amherstburg!” Dilkins stated on his Twitter account Monday night. “We look forward to providing enhanced policing services while saving the Town a lot of money. Your foresight is a win-win for residents in both of our municipalities.”

 

Council, JPAC get another earful over possible police switch

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Two more public meetings on the proposed switching of police services from Amherstburg to Windsor were held last week with large crowds wanting their voice on the matter.

Approximately 65 people attended last Thursday night’s meeting at St. Peter’s ACHS College School while over 100 attended a Saturday meeting at the Libro Centre, the latter lasting approximately three hours.

The majority of the residents in attendance voiced opposition to switching from the Amherstburg Police Service to the Windsor Police Service though there were some supportive opinions during the two meetings.

John Miceli, the town’s chief administrative officer (CAO) and chair of the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC), pointed out policing currently takes up 23 per cent of the town’s total operating budget. He emphasized that it will be town council who will make the final decision, and that decision is scheduled for Feb. 26.

The community room at the Libro Centre was packed for the Jan. 27 meeting on the policing issue. (Submitted photo)

Mike Mitchell, a consultant from MPM Consulting, said the town’s Request for Proposal (RFP) is “quite a comprehensive document” and is available for public viewing on the town’s website. Mitchell added the Windsor police proposal addresses all the concerns laid out by the JPAC while Miceli stated the “town is committed to an accountable and transparent process.”

Many members of the public weren’t buying what the JPAC officials were saying, including Ross Scott who questioned Mayor Aldo DiCarlo as to why this process was taking place.

Denise Bondy holds up a photo of her father – former Amherstburg police chief George Hannah – during a public meeting at St. Peter’s ACHS College School Jan. 25.

“This issue has never been about service or service levels,” said DiCarlo. He said it was caused by people who were questioning candidates during the 2014 election about policing costs and wanting options.

Windsor police chief Al Frederick said Amherstburg has “an excellent police service” but believed public safety could be enhanced if the service was switched. Frederick noted crimes are “borderless” today and “your high school students are being victimized every day.”

Amherstburg police chief Tim Berthiaume said the current service is as efficient as it can get.

“We never stop looking for efficiencies in the police service,” he said. “We are already running as lean as we can be but we never stop looking.”

Berthiaume cited $240,000 in savings from switching the dispatch to Windsor.

Scott called the process “ludicrous” and put his support behind the Amherstburg Police Service.

“I am quite satisfied with Amherstburg police. I am proud to say I taught many of them and they are good people,” said Scott. “I have no problem with Windsor police but, in my opinion, Amherstburg can do a fine job.”

Denise Bondy reiterated a previous position that the decision was too important to be made in haste and with less than the full council. Two members of council – Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget – have sought legal advice and have declared a conflict of interest.

Bondy called for the public to have a vote in whether they want policing switched.

Dan Ouellette said he feels safe in Amherstburg and commended the current officers.

“I’m very happy with the police force we have,” he said.

“I like the Amherstburg police force,” added Nancy Atkinson. “I think they are doing a fine job.”

Atkinson said she didn’t see the need for enhanced services like bomb squads and the other, with enhanced services also being questioned by others. Miceli said the enhanced services would come to Amherstburg, if needed, free of charge though noted OPP doesn’t currently charge for services and “may or may not” in the future.

Frederick pointed out there was an explosive ordinance that washed up in Amherstburg several months ago that Windsor police detonated.

“It does happen,” he said. “It happened here recently.”

Another look at the packed house at the Libro Centre Jan. 27.

Frederick, when addressing a different question, said they are “staffed well in Windsor” and that he doesn’t foresee pulling resources from Amherstburg to Windsor in case of a major crime. The JPAC has stated that all current Amherstburg officers would stay in Amherstburg and leave only if they pursue promotional opportunities.

George Kritiotis said he believes in the officers with the Amherstburg Police Service.

“I don’t think any service would police Amherstburg better than the Amherstburg Police Service,” he said.

Kritiotis questioned why Windsor doesn’t use body-worn cameras with Frederick replying that no large municipality currently employs them and that he wants to see what added value he brings.

“I never said I don’t want them,” he said.

Berthiaume said the difference in Amherstburg is its size, adding it’s “a completely different animal” in Windsor.

“We are small enough (to have body-worn cameras). We can handle the capability ourselves,” said Berthiaume. “I’m a firm believer in them for the community. It’s a good fit for our community and our people.”

Kritiotis questioned whether Miceli was in conflict due to the CAO being a former Windsor employee but DiCarlo defended the CAO. The mayor said that if people wanted to lay blame and hate someone, go through him, adding that any thoughts of Miceli being behind a conspiracy is “absolute nonsense.”

Paul Hertel called for town council to receive a more thorough report that goes beyond the RFP.

“If council has no JPAC report content on this issue, it must search elsewhere. I believe the public is entitled to understand the thinking of its duly elected representatives and expects more articulation than a mumble of platitudes,” said Hertel.

Hertel also questioned what the timeline is for implementation and what the implications are for the dissolution of the local police force and police services board. He also wondered implications would come into place if Amherstburg is added to the Windsor Police Services Board.

“Based on the public meetings so far, and my readings, I am unconvinced that the community finds merit in the current proposal,” said Hertel. “Notwithstanding the answers to my questions, there appears to be neither evidence of urgency or failed community policing. Contracting out police services is not an option and I hope the final JPAC report to Amherstburg council will acknowledge the views of our citizens.”

“We are very comfortable with what we have,” added Tracey Matte. “The savings aren’t enough to make us switch from what we have.”

It is projected the town would save $567,802 annually by switching to Windsor.

Others agreed that the savings wasn’t enough, with some voicing they would be glad to pay an extra $61 on their taxes. That is the average amount per household that would be saved.

Frank Cleminson, who spoke at both of the first two meetings, pressed for transparency in the process and how numbers were arrived at.

“I’m still concerned with how you arrived at these savings,” said Cleminson. “If you have the numbers, you should be able to put them up and explain the savings.”

“There is no hidden agenda here,” responded Frederick. “There is no hokey-pokey with numbers. I have nothing to gain by pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes with regards to finance.”

Frederick said Berthiaume and Amherstburg deputy chief Ian Chappell would be offered sworn positions with Windsor police and that accounts for some of the savings.

“We are being transparent and accountable,” he said. “I have no interest in this other than supplying a superior police service at a cheaper cost.”

Among questions posed by Marc Pillon were the reduction of operating costs but noted many residents would rather pay for the existing service.

“It is emotional,” he said. “We are saying this is not what we want.”

Tim Ackerson indicated there are studies that show small forces manage operating costs effectively and that local forces have an intimate knowledge of the town. Ackerson said his position was a “weak no” but there could be opportunities in the future.

“It’s not the right time,” said Ackerson. “In the future, maybe it will be.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins said there was a regional policing study done several years ago that showed a benefit to the region. He said the town would receive the same level of service should the proposal be accepted with same same officers, vehicles and shift schedules.

“We can do this and save the town $560,000,” said Dilkins.

Dilkins added that “no one is not trying to be transparent” but there are police functions that are included in the proposal that can’t be stated publicly by law.

“We can’t de-risk this more for the Town of Amherstburg,” said Dilkins. “We can’t.”

Other towns have switched to OPP and maintained their identity, he added, and predicted the same would be true of Amherstburg should a switch to Windsor police occur.

“You will not lose your identity based on one decision,” Dilkins told the crowd at the Libro Centre Saturday afternoon. “You are too strong of a town for that to happen.”

Michael Prue, a former MPP and mayor from the GTA, said after 26 years in politics, he learned to “forget the money” if it comes down to what the public wants versus cost considerations.

“To me, the fundamental problem is the town will lose control,” said Prue. “The Amherstburg Police Services Board is essential. It states where the police service should be going.”

Prue added it is the wishes of the public that are the most important.

“The people of the town make the town,” he said. “Give them what they want. It’s the town and it’s what they are going to pass down to their children.”

Len Paquette didn’t believe the right questions were asked during the JPAC process, adding his belief that the process was being “sugar coated” and that not all the facts were being released.

“If you break it down, it’s 17 cents per day,” he added.

Don Brown, an Amherstburg resident and member of the Amherstburg Police Service, said many officers already have specialized training and it is similar to what Windsor officers have. Steve Owen, another Amherstburg resident and Amherstburg officer, questioned how long the JPAC had to review the proposal, noting there have been rumours of them only reviewing it 20-30 minutes.

Miceli said the motion from JPAC was to move the process forward and “no one forced anyone to agree or not agree with the motion.”

Owen added they offer accident reconstruction and VIP in Amherstburg, with that latter seeing ten visits to a Grade 6 class by an officer. He told the public while there is a concern that there is a concern the town isn’t listening to them, the police officers are.

Shawn McCurdy, another Amherstburg officer and president of the Amherstburg Police Association, said they have a great working relationship with Windsor and have respect for the service but the majority of members want to stay with their own service.

“I think the public needs to know that many of us want to stay in Amherstburg,” he said.

Glenn Swinton questioned whether dispatch is on top of the policing proposal or included. He was told it was a matching up of contract terms with Dilkins noting that if Amherstburg were to return to its own force after five years, they could still have dispatch services.

Should a switch back to Amherstburg occur down the road, Swinton also questioned the shape the assets returning to the town would be in. He also had questions about the JPAC itself, wondering who drafted the terms of reference. DiCarlo said administration created them and they were approved by council.

The crowd listens to the JPAC presentation at St. Peter’s ACHS College School Jan. 25.

In a written notice, Swinton called for the disbarment of the JPAC, alleging several members were in conflict. He believed DiCarlo was in conflict for having a relative on the force while Berthiaume was an employee of Amherstburg police. Swinton’s letter also named Councillor Rick Fryer, alleging conflict due to “legal issues having been put before the APD” from members of his family including the issue involving

The process of electing a chair and vice-chair was also questioned with Miceli being appointed chair of the JPAC.

Swinton stated in a letter that he was taking the matter to the town’s integrity commissioner. Swinton questioned during the meeting when a Friday JPAC meeting was actually called, with Miceli responding it was called two days previous and placed on the town’s website.

Among those in support of the Windsor police proposal was Judy Carter. Carter said she had no reason to doubt that Amherstburg police provides an excellent service. She did say she was concerned about her tax dollars and how they are spent.

“I’m retired. I don’t have a money tree in the backyard,” she said.

Carter said she supports switching to the Windsor police service, adding she hopes more people with opinions like hers speak up.

“I do support the proposal because of the enhancements it provides to the town,” said Carter.

Sarah Gibb said she was a “soft yes” for the Windsor police proposal. She didn’t believe it should go to a public ballot as she feared that residents wouldn’t educate themselves fully and vote out of fear, the latter which she said is “all over the internet.”

There will be some savings but they are “savings nonetheless,” she said. She urged the town to place the savings into a reserve and not use the money for any “surprise giveaways.” Should the town maintain the status quo, there is no guarantee there won’t be increased costs to cover it, she believed.

“I feel the Windsor Police Service is a viable option,” she said.

Gibb added: “I would feel sad to see the local service go, out of nostalgia, I suppose.”

Noting it is a stressful time for people in the community, Gibb pointed out there would be no job losses for current Amherstburg police members.

“I choose to see this as an opportunity for our town and its police officers,” said Gibb.

The decision on whether or not to switch will come Feb. 26 and DiCarlo suggested the meeting be moved to a larger venue than the council chambers to accommodate the crowd. It might also be the lone agenda item that night.

In the meantime, the town states it is going to come up with phone and online surveys to further gauge public opinion.

Town passes new open burn bylaw

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A process that resulted in three public meetings late last summer has concluded with a newly passed open burn bylaw.

Town council passed the new open burn bylaw thanks to a 5-1 vote Monday night. Fire chief Bruce Montone said the bylaw is “reasonably close” to what was presented last year.

Voting in favour of the new bylaw was Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Jason Lavigne, Rick Fryer, Joan Courtney and Leo Meloche. Councillor Diane Pouget was opposed while Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale was not at Monday night’s meeting.

Properties will have to be inspected before a permit is granted. The bylaw also contains other provisions depending on the type of fire set, the setting (urban vs. rural) or if a device such as an outdoor fireplace or chiminea is being used. Montone said firefighters will assess each lot before a permit is granted and that an inspection has to be passed before a permit is issued. Some lots may be too small for a campfire but that will be determined through inspection.

“The biggest challenge we had in the community were bonfires,” he said.

A frequent request was to have small campfires so that people could enjoy each others’ company and enjoy outdoor cooking, he added, though noting all fires have to be properly extinguished and will not be allowed to burn out on its own.

A hotline will be established so that people can call in and see if they can have a fire that day, he noted, with the Amherstburg Alert system being another way to notify residents.

“I’m hoping we found a happy medium between those in the community who wanted open burns and those were against it,” said Montone.

Another challenge will be the volume of inspections in the first year, he noted, though that is expected to subside in subsequent years. Upwards of 1,000 people could ask for a permit, he estimated.

DiCarlo said the bylaw was very well thought out and said it won’t amount to Amherstburg being a “pollution zone” as not every resident will be eligible for open burns will be allowed to do it or will want to have a fire.

“It will come down to a property by property basis,” the mayor stated. “There will be things to learn. Now we have put the fire department in a position to educate people.”

Pouget voiced numerous concerns, including the possibility that smoke could infringe on other people’s property and negatively impact seniors, children and those with disabilities.

“(Smoke) contains many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke,” she said. “I can’t play Russian roulette with the health and safety of our residents.”

The bylaw could also “pit neighbour against neighbour,” she believed, as some neighbours won’t be able to have a fire while others will depending on their lot size.

“It will tax our fire department’s resources,” she added.

Courtney admitted she was on the fence until speaking with Montone earlier in the day Monday but was satisfied with what she heard. Fryer said outdoor fires can do such things as uplift a person’s spirit and provide “joyful experiences,” adding that ancestors spent years cooking over open fire.

“Many of us experience more smoke over a barbecue or a stove than a campfire,” added Meloche. “Education is going to be a big part of how you manage smoke from campfires.”

New public high school location revealed

By Ron Giofu

 

The location of the new public high school has finally been revealed.

The town will sell 15 acres of the southern portion of Centennial Park to the Greater Essex County District School Board for $2,457,000 with the town putting the proceeds into a parkland reserve. The town will retain 12 acres on the northern end of the park.

The new 819-student high school will house both General Amherst High School students and Western Secondary School students with the estimated opening date being Sept. 2020.

“Amherstburg is getting a single location, dual high school that will be state of the art,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We’re ecstatic.”

Greater Essex County District School Board and town officials were pleased with the announcement that Centennial Park will house the new school to replace the current General Amherst and Western. From left: board chair Kim McKinley, CAO John Miceli, GECDSB director of education Erin Kelly, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair.

DiCarlo said the location is close to the downtown area and keeps students close to downtown businesses. It also enables many students to continue to walk to school, he noted.

The mayor called it “incredible” news and gave his thanks to the school board officials.

(UPDATE – As for the fate of the pool, tennis courts and baseball diamonds, DiCarlo told the RTT Wednesday afternoon: “All of these amenities are being considered in the context of the parks master plan and where they will be located.”)

Erin Kelly, director of education with the Greater Essex County District School Board, said the board has selected an architect and will be moving forward with the design process. She believed they would be able to combine the two schools and meet the needs of all the students.

Kelly said they will try and get a shovel in the ground as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of decisions to be made,” she noted.

CAO John Miceli said the town is “really excited” because of the fact the new school will provide additional opportunities for the municipality. Additional community use could arise with the new school and programming could be developed for after-school hours.

The Ontario government has already put $24.3-million towards the new public high school. As for the current building, Miceli indicated the town has its eyes on it and the board has its ears open for those plans.

“It’s in a strategic location in the Town of Amherstburg,” said Miceli. “The board is willing to listen.”

The CAO added: “There’s more to come.”

Miceli also thanked the public board’s administration for working with the town to arrive at the agreement.

Ron LeClair, trustee for Amherstburg and LaSalle, indicated there are opportunities for co-operative education that will be within walking distance for students.

“This is wonderful news for the board and the Town of Amherstburg,” he said. “This is a win-win for the board and the town.”

While admitting “I can’t wait to get a shovel in the ground,” LeClair also said they have to complete the design phase first.

Councillor Leo Meloche noted the importance of the school to the community, and said parents and students alike appreciate the effort. Councillor Diane Pouget also offered praise to the public board for working with the town.

“It’s a special spot for many of us,” she said.

Pouget added there is work being done that would eventually allow for over 1,700 building lots to be created in town, but Kelly noted they have to build based on the students they currently have. If an addition were needed in the future, the board could seek further funding from the province, she suggested.

Councillor Rick Fryer said the new school’s inclusion of skilled trades for students is important and called it “an excellent idea.”

The announcement to sell 15 of the 27 acres in Centennial Park to the public board was met with applause by those in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.