Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Francophone students and parents counting on the completion of the Whitehorse French-language high school by the end of 2019 – as slated by Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee last spring – now have less certainty as to when the school will be fully constructed.
An old fuel spill at the former F.H. Collins Secondary School site – where the francophone high school is set to be built – required more extensive soil remediation than anticipated over the summer, delaying any new build until its completion.
That remediation work is now finished, according to Jason Mackey, a spokesperson for the Department of Education. The next step is environmental testing to ensure the work was successful.
Upon getting that confirmation – tests should be completed in December – the department will update the school’s construction timeline.
The minister said as much in the legislature last week, in response to questions from Yukon Party house leader Scott Kent.
Kent referenced the previously established late 2019 deadline, and asked when the school will be occupied.
“This government is completely committed to the French first language high school and the concept of that process, but we are, at this point, needing to make sure that this is the appropriate land,” McPhee told the house.
“We have no reason to believe, at this point, that it hasn’t been properly remediated, but testing is required.
“There may well be some delays with respect to the land issue that I have indicated.”
Mackey did confirm that construction will not start in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which will end next March 31.
Andre Bourcier, the president of the Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY), said his organization would like the build to happen “much faster.
“We thought that everything was in line to be able to build the school as quickly as possible, and we’re waiting to hear from the department to know exactly where they are on this and what timeline is there.”
Bourcier stressed the importance of the new school to the Yukon’s francophone community.
“It’s really a way of making sure that we can develop.”
He explained that retention is a challenge in the Académie Parhélie French First Language program for students in Grades 7 to 12 at École Émilie-Tremblay.
“At this point, we have to offer equivalent services in French as what is offered in English.
So this is what we’re waiting for.
“The need for a high school was made a long time ago, we thought that the government was very clear on this idea.”
Marc Champagne, the executive director of the francophone school board, empathized the desire to see the school go up as quickly as possible. However, he noted, delays are part and parcel of a project this size.
“It’s a big project,” he explained. “These take time. But we’re making progress.”
He also emphasized that the school is not being built for the 58 students who are already enrolled in Académie Parhélie.
Rather, it’s intended to service the nearly 180 students registered in the French First Language elementary school program at École Émilie-Tremblay “that are going to be eligible for that high school in just a few years.”
École Émilie-Tremblay is the fastest-growing school in the Yukon “by far,” according to Champagne.
Neither McPhee nor the Department of Education would confirm the projected occupancy of the Francophone high school
Its design is still being finalized with the school board and the architects working on the project, Mackey said.
However, Champagne said the building’s estimated capacity has always been 200 students.
The capital budget for the project stands at $20 million, Mackey confirmed, but this figure is still under negotiation with the francophone board.
Once the conceptual design is finalized, the project will go to tender for a design-build contract.
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