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Gym debacle to be solved by Christmas

Students at F.H. Collins should know by Christmas break whether to expect a temporary gym to tide them over while their school is being rebuilt.

Students at F.H. Collins should know by Christmas break whether to expect a temporary gym to tide them over while their school is being rebuilt.

“We don’t have anything official yet, but there are a number of different options being investigated … What I’m interested in is having a final solution in place before school breaks for the Christmas holidays,” said Education Minister Scott Kent.

On Dec. 4, students staged a protest at the legislature to show their concern over the plan to have no gym facility for two and a half years, starting this spring, while a new school is built.

The students had planned to strip down to their gym clothes and run up and down the steps of the legislature gallery.

“It went OK. We had it all planned out and then the minister came up to us and kind of ruined the element of surprise. We walked up and down once. There was a whole bunch of confusion, but everyone knew what was happening. Some of us were in our gym clothes,” said Tristan Sparks, a Grade 10 student at F.H. Collins and one of the protest organizers.

When Kent got wind of the plans, he and Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko met with the students outside the legislature before their demonstration to discuss their concerns.

“We relayed info and exchanged in some back and forth with questions,” said Kent. “Both of us handed out business cards.”

Kent discussed a number of the students’ concerns about the construction period.

“The new construction is going to be right on top of the existing structure. What I was trying to get across to the students is that there are a number of other issues that are of concern, including safety, and some to celebrate as well,” said Kent.

Education and Public Works have been looking at a temporary gym since the Nov. 22 open house where parents and students first raised the issue.

At the time, the government had only sought one quote from a local company, which put the price tag for a temporary tent structure at $1.3 million. That is too much money, said Valerie Royle, deputy minister of education, at the time.

The public tender period for the construction contract for the new school closes Jan. 15. Kent said any new plans for phys. ed. and extracurricular activities will depend on the government finding a successful bidder. The current budget for the new school is $55.8 million.

Any temporary structure needs to be affordable, said Kent. And it should have a continued life after construction of the new school is finished.

“The facility that is built, it needs to be something that can be transferred to another use,” said Kent.

Sparks said he feels that all the pressure from students and parents has helped push Education to do the right thing, but he’s not done yet. He said he plans to request a meeting with Kent next week to find out just what options the department has been able to come up with.

“I really hope they do come up with an answer. There are a lot of different structures available. I’m sure there’s one they could find that would work,” said Sparks.

On Dec. 6, David Laxton, the speaker of the legislative assembly, sent a letter to the students who had gathered for the protest. In it, Laxton described his military service and reprimanded the students for what he described as the their disrespect for freedom, democracy and Canada’s soldiers.

“To disrespect the institutions, democratic processes and beliefs protected by these individuals (soldiers) demonstrates your lack of understanding, knowledge and appreciation of the freedoms you currently enjoy that Canadian soldiers have fought and died to protect,” Laxton wrote.

Contact Jesse Winter at