Much more often than not city councillor Jim Neill and I are camped on the same side of the political fence. I quite like running into Jim, he’s a smart, passionate man, a tireless advocate for Kingston and his Williamsville district. He had me list his house a couple of years ago and he probably won’t mind if I describe him as a friend rather than an acquaintance. But I’ve got to say, I didn’t much enjoy Jim’s opinion piece in the Whig recently. He weighed in (again) on the question of whether the Memorial Centre grounds should be reconsidered as a site for the new high school. He says, No, it shouldn't, and I think Jim has got it wrong. What’s worse, I think he’s stopped really listening to the good people of this city, however loudly he protests the opposite, and however many self-generated statistics he drags out to bolster his position.

I don’t want to bore you with a line by line reading of Jim’s arguments, and I concede that his understanding of municipal due process in these matters is light years beyond my own, but I do think that when a man introduces his own argument as something both “logical and elegant” you should probably strap in for a rough ride.

What Jim would most like, it seems, is for the “committed, well-meaning and highly vocal group” that would like to see reconsideration of the site’s appropriateness to just hush. More than once Jim draws attention to how “vocal” his opponents are. He implies throughout his article that their volume is not reflective of their numbers. Don’t take them seriously, that’s the message. In other words: I’ve done the math and it’s just a few loudmouths drowning out the majority. Well that’s pretty rich, isn't it, coming from the most vocal voice on council? I really think that Jim knows better than most that sometimes you’ve got to yell to be heard.

His casual assumption that the Memorial Centre grounds is a brownfield site is also interesting. The Cook Brothers site off of Bagot street was removed from the list of possible sites for a school for this very reason, so I get why he’d put the argument forward. Thing is, the contaminated parts of that area have been fenced off until remediation can take place. But it seems Jim, despite his suspicions, is happy for families to continue frolicking at the M Centre. The kids can play there, and their dogs can track the lead-rich mud home, he’s good with that, just don’t send them to school there.

Jim campaigned on a platform that promised to preserve parkland and he’s fulfilling his promise. Good for him. I understand. But I just don’t see that the creation of a school means that all the publicly accessible green space will disappear. Or that all the money spent on limestone walls, and walkways, and trees, and fencing, will be wasted. Our schools don’t have to be fortresses, and our playing fields don’t have to be ringed with barbed wire. We can all benefit from the evolution of that good space.

What I mostly want to say is that I’m saddened to have such an influential voice, and one normally so committed to preserving the city centre, fight so hard to prevent a high school from being built close to the downtown core. Our children should, whenever possible, walk to school, that’s what I believe. And when they need to be driven or bussed they should ideally be brought into the heart of the city, not ferried out to its edges. Because that’s how we raise a generation to love the city, and this is how our children come to experience first-hand its history and its geography, its beauty and also, sure, the issues it faces. This is how we raise kids who will want to explore the urban life and lifestyle rather than drive out to a big-box for a new TV set, or for a slice of pizza with a twenty-year half-life. This is how kids get to really know the city they live in, and to respect the community of people around them. This really is how we save our vibrant downtown, how we set things up nicely for the future. It’s that or we hollow out the city’s core, isn’t it? I mean, that’s the real choice and, like many others, I think that’s worth getting vocal about.


I went to Jims townhall

I went to Jims townhall meeting and was very dismayed when he refused to speak about it. It was a packed house. Half of us walked out. He is supposed to be the voice for Williamsville. But he isn't listening.

Hi Yelda

Hi Yelda, I have written a few times that I think it's a mistake to close KCVI. That decision saddens me. A lot. But I was really disappointed by the prominent KCVI defenders who decided that their best strategy was to make it sound as if choosing any site north of Princess was akin to sending our children to some impossibly distant and dangerous wasteland. I found those arguments dumb and offensive, and it was hard for me to align myself with that group. And now that KC is destined to close it seems to me it's tricky for those same people to come out  publicly in favour of the M Centre site, and that's a shame.

The facts on Contamination at MC Site

Great article Mark. Jim Neil is claiming the site is probably contaminated due to animal wastes from the barns and the use of the parking lot for dumping snow (oils and lead in snow). This surprised me as in 20 years of coming across site contamination problems, I have never heard of problems from these types of uses. So I asked one of the main environmental consultants in the City. He confirmed that animal wastes in the ground are not considered contaminants by the MOE and they are not tested for. Similarly, the consultant says that very unlikely to be contamination from snow dumps. What Jim is saying is factually incorrect.

Townhall meetings

I also went to Jim's townhall meeting where he refused to speak, and to Peter Strout's. It was shocking that Jim choose to not address this issue at his own meeting. It was also shocking how close minded he seemed at Peter. I am extremely confused as to where Jim's static claiming over 70% of his Williamsville community opposes using the memorial site for the high school comes from. I am a parent and a voting member of Williamsville and I strongly feel this is the best possible option for the school. I also question Jim's claim surrounding saving green space, is the area being looked at not the concrete parking lot and barns?
I grateful to Peter Strout's for his willingness to listen. I can only hope that all the city councillors will listens with open minds and consider facts, not speculation, when considering this issue.

Well written Marc, the same

Well written Marc, the same goes for Rob Hutchison. Several phone calls and emails have been sent his way with no response. He finally brought himself to Peter Stroud's Town Hall meeting where he continues to have a closed mind simply saying "it's too late". He appears to be making no effort to listen to those constituents supporting the Memorial Centre Site.


Oh Mark. This is so good. Please send to The Whig! And to Rob Hutchinson. I'm going to share this within my little world. Thank you.

Jim Neill and M Centre

As one who spent close to 30 years teaching at QE and 50 years in Kingston I can say that Jim Neill doesn't "get it". I wrote an article in the Whig in 2012 stating my reasons for putting the new school on the M Centre's the only place it should be.....period!

Thanks Marc

Mark, thank you for so bravely and clearly articulating this issue. We have to move past the fighting and do what serves the young people of Kingston best. Building a school that shares such a great public space only helps to enhance both learning and community. I hope that all of council and trustees are reading this and reflecting on their commitment to the people and students of this city.


Does moving the new high school 1.5 km closer to Princess Street make that much of a difference? Can we really call the QECVI site 'remote' as I have heard so many times? Walk from Princess to QE. Don't drive. It's not that far. Most of the students presently going to KCVI will not be bussed to the QE site. Why? BECAUSE THEY DON'T LIVE FAR ENOUGH AWAY TO BE BUSSED! So please stop saying in one breathe that you want your child to walk to school and then saying 2-3 km is too far. My children and I walked 1.8 km one way to school since JK. The neighbourhood of QE is serves more than the population South of Princess Street. The fact that Jim Neill didn't speak about this issue at the W. Town Hall is because he is aware that there are many other issues for us in Williamsville to be concerned with.

Distance and prejucide

I fear this debate says more about continued prejudice against the north end, than about what's best for the students and other residents of this city. This decision affects a lot more people than just those who live in Williamsville. For lots of students, the QECVI site is more central than the M Centre. Maintain the M Centre as a publicly accessible, multi-use green space, and build a fabulous school on the QE grounds. Marc's idea, by the way, of "sharing" the school grounds with the public is a non-starter. In this era of fear and lock-downs and heightened security in and around our schools it seems highly unlikely that a 'commons' approach to the grounds could be implemented.

a response

Thanks for your comment, Susan. I think there is still a prejudice in some quarters against the north end, you're absolutely right. I live on Charles St (which is not that far north of Princess - no further north than KCVI is south, for instance), and I was angered by the attitude of many who slammed the Cook Brothers site off Bagot St, painting it as a remote wasteland. But my argument isn't intended as a north-south thing at all. It's about keeping a school as close to the downtown core as possible. I really think that's best for the city and for the students. The decentralization of our schools and our services - the persistent movement of them away from the heart - is not good for the life of a city. The QE site may only be 1.6 km further north but I guarantee you no students will be walking downtown on their lunch hour from that site. In fact it is mostly ringed by old industrial land and that just serves to isolate the students from their community.


a response to Nancy's piece, "Density", above.

Thanks for your comment, Nancy. I just think that more children will be able to walk to school if it is built at the M Centre site. It is the most central site available. And as for Jim Neill, his tactic at the moment seems to be to talk to the newspaper at every opportunity (the Whig, after all, loves to stir the pot in order to sell a few newspapers), or to just write off the protests of his constituents as the cries of an over-loud and unimportant minority. That's no way to treat your people, in my view.

Memorial Centre as site for new high school

Hi Mark,
Below are the contents of an e-mail I wrote to the Mayor and councillors. The battle to save the green space of the Memorial Centre for the whole Kingston community did not happen very long ago. I hope ALL matters will be carefully considered during this debate, not least the needs and benefits for all children in the city. Since sending my letter to the Mayor and Councillors I have learned that together with parking and exercise grounds the new school would occupy approximately 10 1/2 acres, about half of the Memorial Centre property!

Dear Mayor Paterson and City Councillors,
As one of those who campaigned against selling the Memorial Centre I feel I have to write to defend the public use of the Memorial Centre space which has been revitalized at great expense for Williamsville residents and, in fact, for all the residents of Kingston. All the space is heavily used, probably more than most Kingston parks. It is the only significant green space in Williamsville which, even with the Memorial Centre Park, has less green space than other Kingston districts. One should really take the long view. Green space is so important for the wellbeing and quality of life of residents.

The proponents of building a new school on the property presume that it will "only" occupy the space taken up by the barns. That view seems to be based on insufficient evidence. I believe the school will take up a lot more space that the public will then not be able to use.

Then there is the issue of the use of the grounds for the fall fair which cannot just be wished away. Not to speak of the fact that it is a MEMORIAL Centre that was paid for by contributions from many people in the immediate district. The veterans of the wars also campaigned hard for it to remain in the public domain.

One needs too to consider the children from Rideau Heights district. They will have to travel a lot further than if the new school were to be built at QECVI.

In my opinion the school board made a very poor decision regarding the closing of KCVI. I hope they will reconsider especially in the light of all the intelligent arguments made by those who wished all high schools to remain open. But I don't think City Council should cave into the demand to build a school on the Memorial Centre property.

Thank you for hearing me out,


Margaret Hughes

School Issue

Strange how folks demanded that City Council reconsider its position on the location of a new school, yet they did not demand that the School Board reconsider ITS original decision. The heat should have been on the School Board Trustees, not on City Councillors.

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