Vive la difference!

You gotta hand it to the French community. It’s got chutzpah. Tons of it. First, a little background.

You gotta hand it to the French community.

It’s got chutzpah.

Tons of it.

First, a little background.

In November the Yukon government tendered a $200,000 contract to look at options for the dilapidated FH Collins High School. This study was launched just a couple of months after a $79,000 facility study examined the school.

The public, generally speaking, wants FH rebuilt.

The Fentie government knows it’s going to cost a lot of money — perhaps $36.5 million, roughly the amount it lost on the sketchy asset-backed commercial paper debacle.

And the enrollment numbers don’t support building a new school.

FH Collins currently has 581 students. And the numbers are dropping.

The rundown, rabbit-warren-like facility has a capacity of 850 students. So it’s hard to justify a rebuild.

But the Education department is spending $200,000 — enough to cover generous salaries and benefits for two full-time employees for an entire year, with some left over — to backstop that decision.

Enter the francophone community.

A few weeks after phase 2 of the FH study process began, the local French community announced it wanted a new high school of its own.

There are currently 17 French language high school students in the territory.

They attend Ecole Emilie Tremblay, a French-only school for grades K to 12.

Last year, 145 students were enrolled at the school — that’s, at most, 16 kids per class. The school’s capacity is 300 students.

“We have a need for space right now,” said francophone school board president Andre Bourcier.

And so the territory’s only school board, which received $461,000 from the Yukon government in 2006/07, including $74,000 in operations funding (in comparison, the Yukon College board got $20,000), is looking at options to accommodate its needs.

1) It might expand Ecole Emilie Tremblay.

2) It might renovate l’Alexandrine, the old legion building it recently bought.

3) It could take a wing at a new FH Collins — but the community runs the risk of assimilation, noted Bourcier.

4) It could build its own standalone school.

5) Or it could strike a deal with Copper Ridge residents to build a community centre that would double as a French high school.

The French community can tap Ottawa, bringing fresh money to the territory, noted Bourcier.

Ecole Emilie Tremblay cost $4.4 million, with $3 million coming from Ottawa and $1.4 million from the territory.

Two public meetings are scheduled in February and March and a decision is expected by June.

Coincidentally, that’s when the Yukon government’s $200,000 FH Collins study is scheduled to be rolling off the presses. Who knows when it will be available for public review.

Given that, it probably scratches No. 3 from the French board’s list of options.

That decisive June deadline will allow construction to begin in the spring of ‘09, said Bourcier.

If (when) it proceeds, and if enrollment doubles, 34 French students scattered through grades 8 through 12 can move in by 2011.

And the Yukon, which already gets 90 per cent of its billion-dollar budget from Ottawa, might see another couple of million during its construction.

You have to hand it to the francophone community.

That’s chutzpah. (RM)