F.H. Collins students got an early Christmas present on Wednesday.
Education Minister Scott Kent announced that the department will build a temporary gym at the school, assuming there is a successful bidder on the new building’s construction contract.
The gym will be in place in time for the start of the 2013-2014 school year and will remain until construction of the new F.H. Collins is finished, estimated for 2015.
The heated steel structure will be large enough to house two volleyball courts and will be built on the school’s lower soccer field, but in order to keep costs down it won’t include any plumbing, Kent said.
Because it won’t be ready until Sept 2013, students will still have no gym facility for three months after the current gym is torn down this coming March. Instead, they will use the government’s previously laid-out plan and be bused to other facilities around Whitehorse.
“I feel it’s really good. I’m glad that the government has listened to our concerns and that they’ve agreed to make an on-site structure,” said Tristan Sparks, one of the students behind a petition asking the government to build a temporary structure. Sparks was also involved in a protest at the Yukon legislature earlier this month that drew the ire of the legislature’s speaker, David Laxton.
Sparks said that while losing their gym for three months still isn’t ideal, it’s certainly much better than losing it for years.
“After March the weather tends to get better and you can do more stuff outside. It’s better than two and a half or three years,” said Sparks.
The temporary gym is possible through a partnership with the Department of Highways and Public Works. When the structure has served its time as a gym, it will be handed over to Public Works for use as a permanent facility.
The territory is keeping the expected cost of the temporary structure under wraps for now, to avoid influencing the public tender process, said Cynthia Tucker, assistant deputy minister of public works.
It will also only be available to F.H. Collins students and won’t be open to outside user groups.
“I can tell you my initial reaction to that announcement is mixed. I think it’s a good solution for the students and parents and teachers. They’re getting a temporary gym structure that will help them provide a level of physical activity and education that I believe is hugely important,” said Tim Brady, Yukon Basketball’s technical director.
“Having said that … the user group at F.H. is basketball. As of March 4 we’re losing 18 hours of facility time at F.H. Collins. Once you try to incorporate 18 hours of gym time that we have through one facility, something’s going to have to give. It’s going to be more than us. Other groups are going to be affected beyond us,” said Brady.
Kent and his deputy minister, Valerie Royle, downplayed the role that the student protest and petition played in the decision to build a temporary gym.
Instead, Royle asserted that a decision was made on Nov. 22, following an open house at the school where she and Kent came under fire from concerned parents for saying a temporary gym was off the table.
The possibility of a temporary tent-like structure was first floated at that meeting, but at the time Royle said the $1.3-million price tag was simply too expensive.
“When I first heard the $1.3-million quote, I almost fell off my chair,” Royle said at on Nov. 22. “We’re looking at $56 million dollars to replace the school and I think that’s a great investment, but choices will have to be made.”
“The dollars just aren’t there to build a temporary gym on site,” Kent said on Nov. 22.
On Wednesday, Royle said that part of the challenge around whether to build a temporary structure was that not enough work was done to examine all the options.
“Quite honestly, being new to the job, with the extensive work of the building advisory committee, we really felt that these issues had been dealt with, but obviously they hadn’t,” said Royle.
In the future, the role and scope of building advisory boards will be reviewed to improve the process, she said.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org