The Yukon government is looking to build a temporary gym for F.H. Collins, following a pushback by upset students and parents.
“Fiscally responsible options” are being considered, Education Minister Scott Kent told the legislature this week. It’s an about-turn from Nov. 22, when Kent’s deputy minister, Valerie Royle, said that such a structure would be too pricey.
The aging high school’s gym will be torn down in March, when construction of a new school begins in earnest. Under the government’s current plan, students are expected to make do without a gym for two and a half years, during which time they would be shuttled to other facilities, like the Canada Games Centre and Yukon College.
Parents and students have started an online petition that calls on the Yukon government to build a temporary gym. It had garnered more than 300 signatures by Wednesday morning.
At a public meeting on Nov. 22, Royle explained that a temporary tent-covered structure would cost an estimated $1.3 million based on one quote from a local company. That is simply too expensive, she said. The current busing plan has a budget of $180,000.
Education is now looking into other alternatives that are less costly, said cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman. A better idea of what the options are will be available when the tenders come back, she said.
Tristan Sparks is one of students who was at the public meeting and is helping spread the word about the petition.
“We’re hoping to let them know that we’re worried,” said Sparks. “We want a temporary gym facility.”
“My sister is in Grade 8. She won’t have a gym until she’s in Grade 12,” he said.
Sparks plays on the Grade 10 Warriors volleyball team, and the new school’s gym won’t be ready until after he graduates. He worries that losing the gym will mean giving up the best years of his volleyball career.
“Our senior years are the most fun because everyone gets more competitive. If we get enough people to voice their concerns, (the Department of Education) might listen,” he said.
Keith Halliday, a parent who started the petition, said the government dropped the ball by not planning ahead of time for a temporary gym, and now it is scrambling. The current plan, which would see students busing or walking to various other facilities around town, just isn’t good enough, he said.
The petition calls for the territory to build a temporary structure similar to the one that was used for the Canada Winter Games. The structure could then be kept as a permanent asset for the new school instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars busing students around Whitehorse, said Halliday.
Sport Yukon’s executive director, Tracey Bilsky, said losing a gym doesn’t just affect F.H. Collins students, it affects the whole Whitehorse sports and recreation community.
“If F.H. varsity is sent up to the college, what happens to Tennis Yukon? Back to back with Tennis Yukon’s time is Whitehorse minor soccer. If you take a full high school basketball court out of play, it’s going to have a huge ripple effect,” said Bilsky.
“I think it speaks to a whole lack of planning,” said the NDP’s education critic, Jim Tredger.
“They’re not sure what they’re looking at because they hadn’t really given it a lot of thought. They had discounted or never considered the idea of a structure near the school. They haven’t done the research on it,” he said.
Tredger is calling for the Education Department to reinstate the building advisory committee that Kent disbanded after the design work on the new school was finished.
“They met, or were called to meet less and less regularly and were finally disbanded by the current minister. I think they would have had a lot to say about this. I think their input would have been very valuable,” Tredger told the House on Monday.
Kent did not directly answer the call, but did say, “When it comes to the building advisory committee going forward, we want to ensure that we’re good, sound, fiscal managers.
“The design work has been done. The Department of Education is essentially turning this project over to the Department of Highways and Public Works to manage the construction, and we want to make sure we deliver the project based on the budget that comes forward in January once the tenders are open.”
The petition can be found online at www.fhgympetition.com.
Contact Jesse Winter at