Growing pains

School board wants borough’s help

By Joel Ceausu

Residents near École Henri Beaulieu in St. Laurent’s Chameran district have had it with increasing car traffic and noise from the schoolyard.

“In 1993 it had 235 kids; that has more than doubled,” resident Philippe Dorget told The Suburban. “That’s a huge difference,” he says, adding that he and his neighbours have endured a relentless barrage of screaming from the playground.

Dorget and his neighbours complained to borough council and the Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB). “We hear the school is expanding. The yard is right next to our homes, and for some reason this particular school is very, very loud; louder than other schools.” He said noise levels were recorded at 70-75 decibels—similar to highway traffic and an average factory according to the World Health Organization. Large numbers of kids also mean recesses and activities are staggered, with longer periods of excessive noise levels.

Dorget said residents have for years endured litter, toys and gravel flung into yards, gardens and sometimes windows, and contend with scores of school parents blocking driveways and using parking spaces on the small residential streets forcing some neighbours to park their cars on their lawns.

The 50-year resident of the neighbourhood says despite complaints to the CSMB and school administration, nothing happens.

“The reception from the school was not good,” he said, “it has even been dismissive, accusing us of being against children, which is ridiculous. Maybe the solution is education, of civisme,” he says, rejecting suggestions one resident was told, “that children need to scream to remain calm the rest of the day. That’s middle-ages thinking!” He said even his local city councillor was not aware of the expansion.

“I sympathize and I understand,” said CSMB chair Diane Lamarche-Venne in an interview, adding some measures were already taken, including replacing bell ringing in the yard with whistles. “If parents cause problems on the street, we’ll ask police to step in. But we still have to bring kids out,” she said, confirming the number at “just under 600, and children like to shout and run.”

Lamarche-Venne confirmed the expansion, with several options examined from building downward to above the playground. “The need is obviously there and we have a budget from the ministry.” She says she understand residents’ frustration, and has been asking the borough for help in finding land to build a school.

Little land left

Chameran, known locally as Little Beirut, has a majority immigrant population and features clusters of older duplexes and single-family homes encircled by large high-rises and expansive block apartments, a highly and increasingly densified quarter with more lower income residents than elsewhere in the borough.

Most of the CSMB’s 14 St. Laurent schools have been enlarged, with several undergoing a second expansion. “The students at Henri Beaulieu are neighborhood kids,” she said. “We are bussing children out of the area. We’re doing our best but we don’t control the number of kids in a family. If they have four, five or six, I still have to fulfill my obligations to educate them. For years we have been saying to the borough, if you build new houses, we need to build schools.”

“There is little land left,” says the board chair, “but we have to find it. It’s not easy because the priority every time the borough approves an urban plan is green space. That leaves few options.”

Some residents lament what they see as the city’s indifference to the growing need for schools. “We pay taxes to the city, our cost of living goes up and our quality of life goes down,” says Dorget. “You can’t keep increasing numbers of families and not have infrastructure.” Dorget and his neighbours want a new school built to ease the pressure and dread the expansion. “The noise level is crazy. Now we are talking expansion. How many sardines can you fit into a can?”

“I sympathize,” insists Lamarche-Venne.” I really do. We are trying but I have nowhere else to put these children. I have been looking to the borough for help. I wish I had a partner there.”
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