The Department of Education is looking for portables to accommodate overflow at Whitehorse area schools, most of which are at or near capacity. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Department of Education seeks portables to accomodate overcrowded schools

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said there were no portables avaiable in western Canada

The Department of Education is looking for portables to accommodate overflow at Whitehorse area schools, most of which are at or near capacity.

The government put out a tender in 2018, but no companies responded to it.

“Our subsequent investigation found that there are just no portables to buy in western Canada,” said Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told reporters Oct. 3, noting that her department is working in tandem with Highways and Public Works to secure more than one portable in the future.

“Nobody is needing them this minute, there’s no kids in hallways, but we would like to buy four or five (portables) because we’re trying to project enrollment going forward,” she said.

In a written statement, a department spokesperson said that five students on the waitlist at Golden Horn Elementary have been added to some classes.

“Out of 11 classrooms in the school, three are combined classroom: one split Grade 2/3 classroom and two split Grade 4/5 classrooms,” wrote Jason Mackey.

There are 240 students enrolled at Golden Horn Elementary.

Scott Kent, House Leader for the Yukon Party, told the News he went to the school’s council meeting in early September, noting that there eight families in the catchment area who couldn’t get their children into kindergarten.

“There are other kids throughout the other grades that were waitlisted as well,” Kent said, who’s also the education critic. “I think three of those kindergarten families decided to make other arrangements — I think homeschooling.”

Portables, Kent said, are a good short-term solution, but it shouldn’t end there.

“We know you can’t build all of these (new) schools all at once, but lets get this ten-year plan finalized. It was supposed to be finalized in the summer of 2017. It’s time for the minister to put her words to action,” he said.

The education department is hashing out a 10-year plan to determine delivery times for building new Whitehorse schools and their whereabouts.

“It will feed into the five-year capital for the territorial government and that will be revised in the spring and I hope to have more information at that time about how we’re going forward on individual schools,” McPhee said.

During question period, Yukon Party MLA Geraldine Van Bibber said she’s heard from parents that elementary schools in Hidden Valley and Porter Creek are also at or near capacity.

With the exception of F.H. Collins there hasn’t been a new school built in 20 years, McPhee said during question period.

McPhee said there’s “intense” pressure on Whitehorse schools, which, at least in part, is linked to the influx of new residents.

In Whistle Bend, she said there are roughly 640 new families, which includes 100 children.

“We expect that will continue to grow,” she said. “The land set aside in Whistle Bend is designated for a school. That’s been a plan long-term.”

Brian Laird, a Whistle Bend resident, said that portables are a stopgap measure. The real solution is building new schools, which is why he wants one in his neighbourhood.

“I don’t think portables are a good solution. I don’t want them for Whistle Bend, because they’re not portable. The word portable is a lie,” Laird said, meaning that he believes the facilities become permanent fixtures on school grounds.

“The real solution is proper capital planning,” Laird said. “Plan the infrastructure far enough ahead so you can budget for it and build it, properly.

“We got kids here (in Whistle Bend), and there’s a lot more coming,” Laird said. “Kids who live here now are going somewhere else and they have to be adding to some pressure there.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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