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Community fears for FH Collins

FH Collins Secondary School teacher Chris McNeill doesn’t want the school moved.He made that clear during a public meeting Wednesday, called…

FH Collins Secondary School teacher Chris McNeill doesn’t want the school moved.

He made that clear during a public meeting Wednesday, called to discuss the school’s future.

Options for the aging school include rebuilding, refurbishing or relocating it.

“I really feel that FH should stay in Riverdale because it serves the community of Riverdale and there are an awful lot of young people who make their way through Grey Mountain Primary and Selkirk and they come to school at FH, so it’s really a vibrant part of the community,” said McNeill.

“It allows a fair percentage of students to walk to school each day, which is fantastic,” he said.

“The school uses a lot of the local facilities on a regular basis.”

The gym classes make use of the Millennium Trail and the ski trails, and the building is close to the hospital.

“But mostly it’s just a real sense of community and it’s nice to see the kids grow up in the neighbourhood.”

Many in the room believed a new high school might be built in Copper Ridge.

But there are no plans to rebuild FH on the Falcon Drive property set aside for a new school in that subdivision, said Dave Sloan, director of learning for area two.

However, this contradicts what Hold Fast Consultants — a private Victoria, BC-based company — says it has been hired by the Yukon government to do.

In November, Hold Fast was handed a $69,000 contract to study the high school issue.

“We are here to collect information from the community concerning the possible refurbishment or rebuilding of FH Collins, and get their input on whether it would be on site here or whether they’d be amenable to moving it somewhere else — basically just get the community feedback,” said Bruce McAskill of Hold Fast.

This is why the group at the meeting was so concerned that FH Collins was going to be moved to Copper Ridge.

“I think that having a high school in the heart of the community is an important thing and this is the traditional start of Whitehorse — on this side of the river,” said Wendy Boothroyd of FH Collins school council.

“It’s a beautiful place to have a school near the river,”  Boothroyd said.

“Kids have been coming to FH Collins from the community for decades.

“We have our residence for kids from the communities right beside FH Collins, we have a teen parent centre here, we have the best ‘shop’ in the city here … to me those are all compelling reasons to keep the school here.”

The Riverdale location currently allows students to walk to school or to after-school jobs downtown.

There is a political commitment to build a school in Copper Ridge; however, Sloan was under the impression that it was going to be an elementary school.

There isn’t enough room on the designated land for a high school the size of FH Collins, he said at the meeting.

Should FH Collins be moved there, it would lose its famous technical wing and room for many other extracurricular activities.

This concerned most of the 60 people who had gathered at FH Collins and who believed that their school was being moved to Copper Ridge.

“Obviously we’re looking at replacement of a high school, period,” said Sloan.

“So I think that to build two schools would probably be cost prohibitive.

“The government’s commitment is for a school in Copper Ridge. Our assumption is that was probably going to be an elementary school.

“The only reason I think the thought of a high school emerged is that there are probably some residents in the Copper Ridge area who would like to see a high school there.”

At this point, Sloan contradicted himself by saying, “overall we’re looking at what can be done with the future of FH Collins and locale may be another question in there.”

Members of the public have expressed a number of other concerns.

These include what to do with the kids while FH Collins is being refurbished?

Why is an Outside group preparing the report for the Education department?

Why build another high school if enrollment figures are dropping?

What will be the life expectancy of a refurbished building versus a new building?

Would the school lose it’s designated technical wing?

And if the school is moved to Copper Ridge, all the Riverdale students will have to be bused.

The school was built in 1963 and passed its life expectancy by about three years. It would cost $30 million to rebuild FH Collins and $15 million to refurbish.

At the meeting, Sloan tried to quell the fears of the crowd by saying that the meeting was just the first of several, which will include talking with a variety of stakeholders, school councils and Whitehorse officials.

A rebuilt school would be high quality, he added.