How to Pick Where to Put a School

This past weekend, at the GPNS retreat, some of the other Executive members who were present said “Ashley, you’re interested in transportation issues, why don’t you write a bit more for the website about, you know, trains and buses and planes and stuff!”

Little did they know that the very first thing they’d get would be about where to put schools!

…But that’s the thing – we can never achieve decent, efficient, low-carbon transportation (no, not even with electric cars!) if we don’t put our starts and our finishes in reasonable places – preferrably not very far apart, but at least in places where people can easily travel together to reach them.

So when Education Minister Zach Churchill*’s announcement about streamlining the process for new-school site selection came across my Twitter feed, it seemed like a great chance to emphasize this. Here’s what I pulled together, as a proposed set of principles for the GPNS on this issue:

School Location and Climate Health

The Green Party of Nova Scotia would emphasize the relationship between climate and community planning – particularly transportation questions – when selecting school sites. Carbon-emissions impacts must be considered.


School-aged students make up over a quarter of Nova Scotia’s daily “commuters” (121,000 public school students vs. 381,000 full-time workers), so the locations of their destinations has a huge impact on our daily carbon emissions from transportation.
Locating schools in locations where students can safely walk and/or cycle to school improves health outcomes, and those students’ social connection to their communities.

Therefore, the Green Party proposes the following additional/complementary criteria for locations of schools:

  • In areas where public transportation is readily available, schools will be built adjacent to existing public transportation routes.
  • In areas where public transportation is minimal or non-existent, schools will be built so as to minimize the amount of travel required by students. This will normally be in the largest community of the catchment area, within walking/cycling distance of as many students’ homes as possible.
  • Wherever possible, schools shall be located adjacent to town centres or other public facilities (libraries, recreation centres, parks) that are common destinations for school-aged Nova Scotians.
  • “Brownfield” (previously-developed) land shall always be preferred to “greenfield” (never-before-developed) land.
  • The process of site selection shall include, from the outset, parents’ organizations, community groups and – in the case of junior and senior high schools – students’ groups.
  • Costs of infrastructure necessary to provide safe walking and cycling access to the school shall be included in the project scope for the construction of the school.
  • Costs of government-provided transportation (generally, bussing) shall be included in budgetary analyses of where schools shall be located to assist in generating a “lifecycle cost” viewpoint on sites’ benefits and disadvantages.
  • The impact of closing a school in favour of bussing to another community must also include similar factors, including carbon emissions, long term transportation costs, and impacts on student health and quality of life.
  • A comparison of carbon emissions impacts shall be published to aid in explaining the government’s choice of sites (and/or school closures).

Let me know what you think!

*Full disclosure: I’m currently in the middle of my Bachelor of Education, and hope to be employed in the Nova Scotia public education system by this time next year. I don’t think that has anything to do with any of these principles, though!

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