The Calgary community of Acadia has already been through its brainstorming over empty classrooms.
And it has come up with an set of proposals so innovative that they surprised nearly everyone. The proposals go to the Calgary Board of Education trustees today and will be voted on next month.
In Acadia, the parents and teachers were faced with four small elementary schools and a junior high with an average usage rate of about 40 per cent. One of the schools, Alice M. Curtis Elementary, was only about a quarter full.
When the parents first began talking about what they wanted their schools to look like, many were fiercely opposed to the idea of closing their own neighbourhood school. Taking away the school was like losing a central part of their community.
But once they started talking, they realized that the issue didn't turn on brick and mortar at all, said Judy Gray, the principal who is in charge of utilization issues for the board.
"They got to the point of saying, 'What is best for all the children in this neighbourhood?' " she said.
Anne Trombley, 33, who has three young sons in Acadia and was involved in the brainstorming sessions, said parents eventually realized that they wanted their schools to do two things: bring the community together and keep their children in the area from kindergarten to Grade 12.
As well, they wanted to make sure that any new arrangements they made would be able to stay in place for years to come, not just be a temporary solution.
"The issue was, things couldn't remain the same," Ms. Trombley said.
One idea was to keep all the buildings open and angle for tenants who would sign leases.
In the end, though, the parents rejected that option. They figured that the remaining school programs would become weakened because they were too small. As well, they were worried about having tenants taking up more space than the elementary school portion of the building. Would that still be a school? the parents wondered. So they began looking at closing some of the schools.
"You have to let go of the idea that the building means something," Ms. Trombley said. "It's what's in the building that means something."
Eventually, they hit on the idea of moving the French immersion program from one school to another, consolidating all the English children in kindergarten to Grade 4 in one school, and turning the junior high into a middle school for English programs in Grade 5 to grade9.
That appealed because it meant that the English programs from kindergarten to Grade 9 would share a playground.
The plan means two schools will close outright: Fred Parker Elementary and Alice M. Curtis Elementary. And some students will have to be bused from the outer reaches of the school area. Others will have to walk farther.
Ms. Trombley, for instance, can look out her window at Fred Parker, where her seven-year-old son, Mackenzie, goes. Once the consolidation takes place, he'll have to walk a block and a half to get to school.
The big consolation is that he will be going to school with many of the friends he has made throughout the community.
Ms. Trombley sees the proposals as a unifying force for Acadia.
Most of the other parents did too. The proposals won the support of 82 per cent of those who voted.