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Fewer books, less seating space at downsized F.H. Collins

This spring, the new F.H. Collins school will produce its first graduating class. But the school’s inaugural cap-and-gown ceremony in June is going to look a little different from years past.

This spring, the new F.H. Collins school will produce its first graduating class. But the school’s inaugural cap-and-gown ceremony in June is going to look a little different from years past.

This year, some guests will likely have to watch the ceremony on a screen in the school’s atrium. That’s because they’re not all expected to fit in the new gym.

The issue stems from the fact that the new building is 18 per cent smaller than the old F.H. Collins school, which has affected several facilities, including the gym and the library.

The new gym, where the graduation ceremony will take place, doesn’t have a separate stage. That means a stage will need to be erected on the gym floor, which reduces the space available for guests.

Greg Storey, the school’s superintendent, said about 700 people will be able to fit in the gym, sitting on moveable chairs and bleachers. That number was at least 900 in the old school.

“Any situation you’re going to have, there’s probably going to be overflow,” he said.

He explained that guests who don’t fit in the gym will watch the ceremony on a screen in the atrium, where there will be seats and speakers set up. There might also be food available, he said, “to give those folks some advantages for being where they’re at.”

Jeff Cressman, chair of this year’s grad committee, said each student will likely be given a limited number of tickets for seats in the gym, which would most likely go to parents and immediate family.

Other guests, like extended family and friends from different schools, would sit in the atrium.

Cressman said the committee won’t know how many tickets each student will get until it has a better sense of the number of this year’s graduates. He said that number will be clearer after spring break.

But he said the committee has expected from the start that there will be overflow.

“We didn’t want to limit numbers, because that kind of sours the event,” he explained.

Storey anticipates that this year’s graduating class will be larger than usual, which will presumably make for a larger audience at the ceremony - and more overflow.

Storey and Cressman both said they haven’t yet heard any pushback about the new arrangement from students or parents, and they don’t expect to.

But the results of an access-to-information request obtained by the News show that education officials have been debating the issue since the fall, and have been concerned about the public response.

In an internal email from October, F.H. Collins principal Darren Hays expressed concern that “the 1,000 capacity needed for grad can’t be met and this will result in pushback to a major degree.”

In another email sent a couple of days later, Storey wrote that “The pushback may be a limit to numbers. We’ll see how it goes.”

“Tsunami - head for higher ground warning,” responded Hays.

Still, Storey told the News he doesn’t think people will be upset.

“I am honestly not expecting that kind of a pushback to be coming, simply because it is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “I certainly am not anticipating a tsunami.”

The internal emails also show that officials considered moving the grad ceremony to another, larger venue. The Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, Takhini Arena, Yukon College and Porter Creek Secondary School were all considered, though Hays warned that moving the event to another school would be “certain humiliation.”

Hays also had concerns about the cost of moving the event, and that option was ultimately discarded.

Cressman also told the News that the students want to have the event at their new school.

“These kids were pretty excited about being the first… grads from the new F.H. Collins.”

In another colourful email, Department of Education assistant deputy minister Mike Woods described how to make the overflow set-up sound appealing.

“I was thinking it’s like one of the rock concerts where they set up a screen and sound outside the stadium,” he wrote in mid-October. “We could have extra soft chairs for people and sell it as a special event complete with soft drinks, coffee and tea served to them.

“Or we could call it overflow.”

It isn’t just the gym that’s been downsized in the new school. The new library also has significantly less shelf space, and the school has had to discard a large number of books during the move.

Jason Mackey, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said F.H. Collins has had to get rid of 2,125 books, out of a total of 16,875.

He said some of those books were transferred to other schools, but others were recycled.

“Anything that would have been purely removed and recycled from the library would have been older editions, anything that had outdated information,” he explained. He added that some may have been duplicate copies.

Mackey said F.H. Collins is also building up its e-book collection, which will reduce the need for physical shelf space. He said the school now has 500 e-book titles, up from 120 during the last academic year.

Some books are also being stored in individual classrooms in the new school, since library space is limited. Mackey said books were assigned to classes based on subject - French books in French classrooms, for instance.

“They’re still very accessible,” he said. “The students can get them from the classroom.”

Mackey was unsure how many books are being stored this way.

The new school is hosting a public opening ceremony on Wednesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m.

Contact Maura Forrest at