A child runs into École Whitehorse Elementary School on June 12, 2019. The Yukon NDP moved a motion urging the Yukon government to ensure downtown Whitehorse has an elementary school. (Yukon News file)

A child runs into École Whitehorse Elementary School on June 12, 2019. The Yukon NDP moved a motion urging the Yukon government to ensure downtown Whitehorse has an elementary school. (Yukon News file)

Yukon NDP urges territorial government to maintain a school in downtown Whitehorse

Yukon government previously announced École Whitehorse Elementary School is moving outside downtown

The Yukon NDP moved a motion this spring sitting urging the Yukon government to ensure downtown Whitehorse has an elementary school.

That motion will be brought forward for debate in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on March 15, according to the party.

On Nov. 1, Emily Tredger, the NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre, tabled a petition in the Yukon Legislative Assembly that had more than 200 signatures in support of maintaining a school downtown. The petition also calls for the Yukon government to hold a public consultation on the matter.

“This is so important to people for so many reasons,” Tredger told reporters on March 13.

“It’s part of having like a vibrant, diverse community.”

In a June 3 news release, the Yukon government announced its plans to move École Whitehorse Elementary School outside of downtown, which would remove the only elementary school located in the downtown area.

According to the government’s release, the school was chosen as a “top priority for replacement based on the age and condition of the facility and its inability to meet current and future programming and community needs, including access to spaces for innovative, inclusive and experiential learning.”

The new replacement school will be built on the Takhini Educational Land Reserve, which the release indicates has room for two schools.

The Yukon NDP claims last year’s announcement has caused widespread concerns among residents. According to the party’s March 10 release, the Whitehorse Downtown Residents’ Association had identified a downtown elementary school as a top priority.

“I really worry that we’re moving towards a future where downtown is a commercial core only and becomes a ghost town at six o’clock and that’s when people do feel unsafe. That’s when crime does go up. That’s when it’s not a place that people want to live,” Tredger said.

“I really worry that losing a school would be the first step in that process.”

Based on what Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker told the House as part of a ministerial statement on March 13, Tredger told reporters she is relieved that a new convention centre will not be built in the current location of the school.

On March 13, Yukon Party members inquired about the delay of and timeline for construction of a replacement school — including whether the Yukon government will use this time to reconsider its location.

In the government’s previous five-year capital plan, an elementary school replacement project in Whitehorse is slotted for $45.2 million to $56.5 million, ending in 2025-26.

The government’s latest five-year capital plan lays out a total of $46.2 million to $58.5 million over the next half-decade, ending in 2027-28.

The exact location of the replacement school on the Takhini Educational Land Reserve has yet to be determined, according to Education Minister Jeanie McLean on March 13 during question period. She said the departments of Education and Highways and Public Works will work with the First Nation School Board on future plans for the site.

“In terms of how we have been working with our community, we are working with a project advisory committee. It was established in October 2022,” McLean told legislators.

“We have been engaged with the project advisory committee, working closely with them to facilitate collaboration and the exchange of ideas between key partners, stakeholders and the Government of Yukon.”

The government’s website indicates the design and planning phase will take place over two years, with construction beginning on the land reserve after completion of the new Whistle Bend Elementary School, which has an estimated completion date in 2024. The replacement École Whitehorse Elementary School will open at the beginning of the school year following its completion, which is approximately three years after construction begins.

“I think that the residents of downtown make a good argument for there being a school downtown,” Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters following question period on March 13.

The Yukon Party raised concerns in the legislative assembly about building a replacement school on the lot where multiple popular ball diamonds run by Softball Yukon are located in addition to issues around increased traffic in the area, loss of green space and the replacement school being in the “backyard” of Takhini Elementary School.

“I was hoping to hear from the minister that they would commit to ensuring that if they do take away some of those fields, they’ll replace them,” Dixon told reporters.

“What I’ve heard from folks in the softball world is that if they were to lose those three fields, they’d have a very hard time continuing to offer softball in the summers here in the way that they’re currently offered.”

READ MORE: Whitehorse Elementary to be rebuilt in Takhini ballpark area

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