Whitehorse Daily Star

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Jeanie McLean

YG intent on Takhini as choice for school

The Department of Education refuses to hit the fire alarm on its plan to build a new elementary school in Takhini.

By Morris Prokop on March 15, 2023

The Department of Education refuses to hit the fire alarm on its plan to build a new elementary school in Takhini.

It has, however, announced a plan to seek input from the public on Whitehorse school facilities.

This comes as the department and its minister, Jeanie McLean, continue to take fire from the Yukon Party and NDP over the location of a new elementary school in the Takhini Education Reserve (see story below).

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, McLean emphasized that her department will stick to its guns and continue planning a new school for Takhini.

That’s despite the objections to the plan by the NDP, which wants to see another elementary school built downtown; the Yukon Party, which agrees with the NDP; and many members of the general public.

McLean was asked if she is 100-per-cent set on having the new elementary school built on the Takhini Education Reserve.

“That’s the determination at this point, that this is where the – again, we have two locations to draw from and that this is a good central location,” she said.

“We know that there will be a lot of work to mitigate some of the potential issues, and we’re prepared to do that work with our community, with all of our partners.

“We’ve made the decision to have the school located on the Takhini Education Reserve.”

McLean was then asked if she would reconsider her plan if there was a lot of support to build the school downtown instead.

McLean reiterated “The École Whitehorse Elementary replacement, the replacement of the location that they’re in now, will be built on the Takhini Education Reserve.

“For future planning, in terms of future needs of elementary schools and any other type of school in the Whitehorse area, we’ll be drawing on the work that we do through this engagement to make those determinations.”

McLean was then asked if she hasn’t written off having an elementary school downtown.

She replied, “No, I’ve never said that. And I think that there’s some framing that I’m somehow closing the door to that.

“And actually, that’s the exact discussion I had with citizens from the downtown core when I met with them … they expressed their concerns about how important a school is in a neighbourhood.

“I agreed with them that that is in fact very true, all the statements that they made, and that they would definitely be part of this future engagement to hear all of those concerns and that we would be broadening that to all of Whitehorse to have that discussion.”

One of the key sticking points to the Takhini plan is one of concern to thousands of softball players in the territory: the very real fear that a new school in Takhini may wipe out three of the diamonds paralleling Range Road that Softball Yukon uses on a regular basis.

That would greatly impact Softball Yukon’s ability to stage territorial, regional, and even national and international tournaments, which it does on a regular basis.

McLean said there is a project advisory committee in place to address the issue. It includes members of the École Whitehorse Elementary School Council, the school community, First Nations and YG officials. She also said the City of Whitehorse has been present at the committee’s meetings.

She did say, however, that neither Softball Yukon nor Sport Yukon has a member on the committee.

“Part of the consultation will be consulting with them. So, again, important that you know their concerns are addressed and definitely have every intention of working closely with them in terms of what changes may be required,” the minister said.

“And again, there has not been a determination on the exact location on the Takhini Education Reserve.”

Asked if there’s a spot on the education reserve that wouldn’t affect the softball fields, Mclean replied, “I think we’re still in the planning stages around that. So we’ll have to make those determinations as we continue to plan with the advisory committee as the project progresses.”

She hasn’t personally had discussions with Softball Yukon.

“We know that there is a potential impact to Softball Yukon. And, you know, my intention always is to bring everyone in and have good discussions around what the possible impacts can be, how we can mitigate them and plan forward, and I think that one of the things that’s always been known is that those particular fields they are on the Takhini Education Reserve, and I think that’s always been known by Softball Yukon, and I think that’s a really important point.”

McLean did agree with the assertion that Softball Yukon was aware something might happen to jeopardize their fields.

“I’m sure that they’ve been aware of that.”

McLean isn’t sure who made the decision to locate the softball fields in Takhini but emphasized that “everyone would have been very aware that this is an education reserve and that those education reserves are in place to accommodate future educational infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the government has rolled out its plan to seek public input on Whitehorse schools after the fact that it has determined Takhini is the place to build the schools.

“I’ve never said no to a downtown elementary school,” McLean said.

“We’re excited to hear from folks. When we announced that we were moving forward, that a decision had been made to replace École Whitehorse Elementary school, I personally met with all of the school councils, talked to them about that decision. I met with the respective First Nations.

“ ... In lots of ways, we’re having to catch up on school infrastructure … we did not have any new elementary schools built in Whitehorse for 20 years.”

Yukoners can participate in the online survey at Yukon.ca/engagements until May 15, or attend one of the engagement sessions throughout April.

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