Demolish FH Collins: report

FH Collins high school should be demolished and rebuilt, rather than renovated. That conclusion, at last, comes from a consultant’s report…

FH Collins high school should be demolished and rebuilt, rather than renovated.

That conclusion, at last, comes from a consultant’s report released Wednesday.

The report, prepared at a cost of $200,000 by Vancouver-based consultants Proactive Information Services Inc., offers scant details beyond this. The report instead largely dwells on how school programs could be improved.

The cost and timeline for building a new high school are not included in the report. These details are to be disclosed in early 2009, when an implementation plan is publicly released.

Earlier estimates have put the cost of building a new school at $48 million.

The question of what to do with Whitehorse’s oldest high school has hung over the department of Education for several years. The department’s solution has been to commission a bunch of studies, of which the Proactive report is only the latest.

The question was supposed to have been settled last year, in a report prepared by Hold Fast Consultants at a cost of $79,000.

But the Hold Fast report withheld judgement. The report called for another report. Hence the Proactive study.

Yet the Proactive study does not weigh the costs and benefits of renovation versus building a new school. Instead, it depends entirely on the conclusions of the earlier Hold Fast report, which mentions that even earlier engineering studies indicate the old school has, by now, exceeded its life span by five years.

One chief purpose of the Proactive report is to describe the facility requirements for a new FH Collins.

The department of Education deemed this to be an essential question to sort out before deciding to renovate or rebuild the school.

The report offers few clear answers.

It is long on truisms, such as stating the need for “caring, healthy environments and welcoming spaces,” and short on concrete details as to what a new school would look like.

The closest it comes is to say the new school must not be designed as “the traditional school ‘box’” and instead be “a facility that responds to the latest understanding of student learning and related school design.”

The report also rejects a plan to build one large “super school” to serve all of Whitehorse.

It does offer recommendations on school programs for a new FH Collins. A new school should offer an expanded trades program, with facilities to be shared with other Whitehorse schools.

It should also offer more arts programs, and more experiential education, such as the Wood Street outdoor programs and Sundog carving program. As well, French immersion classes should continue at the new school.

The report also identifies shortcomings in school programs.

Students who arrive in Whitehorse from rural communities are typically at a lower academic level than students raised in the capital. To help these students, the report calls for assessments on all students before they enter secondary school, and the provision of extra supports for students falling behind.

The Work Experience Life Skills Program, offered to struggling students, should be scrapped. The program offers basic reading and math skills to students, along with life skills and job placements.

These students end up with a “student leaving certificate,” which allows them to stop attending school, but it is not the same as graduating, as it does not qualify students to attend college or university.

This is not always understood by students in the program, or their parents, the report states. It quotes one student in the program who “can hardly wait to leave” high school, and plans on “going to college next year.”

More one-on-one support for struggling students needs to be offered, the report states.

More support for First Nation students should also be provided, as they continue to disproportionately drop out of school.

And more help should be offered to Grade-8 and-9 students in their transition to high school.

The Proactive report is the product of 10 months of work. It was produced under the direction of a 30-member advisory committee. Committee members included education department staff, First Nation representatives, school principals and school council members.

The same committee plans to work on the implementation plan.