A student runs into École Whitehorse Elementary School on June 12, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

A student runs into École Whitehorse Elementary School on June 12, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Opposition parties vote 9-7 against governing Liberals on downtown school

NDP and Yukon Party MLAs voted in support of NDP motion ensuring downtown Whitehorse has a school

The NDP and the Yukon Party have voted against the governing Yukon Liberal Party in a nine to seven vote in support of a motion ensuring downtown Whitehorse has a school.

The NDP brought forward the motion for debate on March 15.

In closing the debate, Emily Tredger, the MLA for Whitehorse Centre, pleaded for the Yukon government to commit to having an elementary school downtown.

“Right now, this school is not meeting the needs of most downtown kids. I think we can do better than that. I think that this is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for a neighbourhood school where downtown kids are guaranteed a place,” Tredger said.

“I don’t have access to all the information that the Yukon government has, so I wanted to make this motion as unprescriptive as possible while still ensuring that downtown residents could feel secure knowing that they have an elementary school downtown.”

The NDP has tabled a petition with more than 200 signatures, as well as 54 letters addressed to the ministers of Education and Highways and Public Works, in support of a downtown elementary school.

The Liberals have not written off the notion of having a downtown school, but argued that students would have to go somewhere in the meantime. The current building for École Whitehorse Elementary School on 4th Avenue is not suitable for a suite of reasons, including its age and need for seismic upgrades.

“There probably needs to be a really thoughtful redesign if another school is going to go into that location, but in the interim, the children who are going to that location will have to go somewhere else. We will have to look at demolition, and we will have to look at remediation,” Premier Ranj Pillai said.

“If there is a need for a downtown school, there should be a downtown school. The trend of population looks like that is where it will probably go. At this time, what is the right approach is to put something in Takhini and start to plan what should go downtown and what is the way to maximize the number of students who live downtown to attend that school. Having a bilingual school in the downtown core as that first option does not meet that goal.”

Most students who currently attend the downtown school do not live in the downtown area, according to the governing party.

“What we do know is that, in the current circumstances, only about 50 children from downtown Whitehorse are attending [École] Whitehorse Elementary School,” Pillai said.

Pillai told the legislative assembly the “easiest” or the “best” solution is to relocate the school to the Takhini Educational Land Reserve, in part, due to the access to land-based learning.

“You have a phenomenal backdrop for children to take part in many, many things,” he said.

The reserve is home to Takhini Elementary School. The site also has softball diamonds run by Softball Yukon that could be in jeopardy.

Pillai said the opposition wants to turn this issue into a battle.

“There are lots of people who play softball. It makes sense to battle on behalf of the people who play softball,” he said.

“But, by and large, Yukoners and residents of Whitehorse understand that it’s important to have proper infrastructure in place for a school. So, we understand the political calculus, but at the end of the day, I think people have a common-sense approach to these conversations.”


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Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com