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New French school pitched as a boon for the broader community

A future francophone high school in Riverdale would contain a theatre and other spaces available to all Yukoners, according to an official from the French school board.

A future francophone high school in Riverdale would contain a theatre and other spaces available to all Yukoners, according to an official from the French school board.

Executive director Marc Champagne presented conceptual plans of what a new school could potentially look like at the board’s annual general meeting last week.

It would include classrooms, a library, a theatre space for over 200 people and offices for Association franco-yukonnaise staff.

The idea of combining a high school with a community centre has been floating around since 2007, said Champagne, the year the school board first proposed a new high school.

One of the main messages from last week’s meeting is that this project has the potential to be a real benefit to the city, not just the francophone community.

“There would be user agreements with the Yukon government and the city, and all of those facilities would be available for the benefit of the wider community. The idea is to maximize what we’re doing for the high school and integrate community needs.”

Sylvie Painchaud, president of Ecole Emilie Tremblay’s parent’s committee, said she agreed the building would bring a lot to the city.

“Whitehorse needs that kind of venue,” she said.

“This is a resource that we will be very happy to share with the whole community. If our kids are francophone, I never forget that 75 per cent have an anglophone parent.

“That is good thinking about sharing, instead of splitting.”

The school board and Yukon government have been mired in a court battle over the plans since 2009, when the board sued the government, saying that negotiations for a new school were going nowhere.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of the Yukon ordered the territorial government to build a new high school for francophones within two years.

In February 2014, however, the Yukon Court of Appeal found that ruling may have appeared biased because the judge had been governor of the Alberta group La Fondation franco-albertaine.

The French school board subsequently asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its case against the Yukon government.

After Canada’s top court ruled a new trial would be needed to sort out the long-running legal battle, both sides decided to try to resolve their differences out of court.

In May this year, the school board picked the site of Riverdale’s skate park for a future high school among three options presented by the Yukon government. If built, it would be the sixth school in Riverdale.

No timeline has been set for the construction of the school, but a newly-created construction committee has indicated it would like to see it completed by the fall of 2018, in time for the start of that school year.

A number of caveats remain before ground is even broken at Riverdale’s skate park.

The board needs to apply and obtain funding from Canadian Heritage to help cover the costs of the project. It also needs to apply for a development permit to the City of Whitehorse.

Education Minister Doug Graham has committed to building the school, but hasn’t formally announced it would be built in Riverdale, nor has he talked about a completion date.

Much has also been said about the potential increase in traffic that would come from adding another school to Riverdale.

Champagne said the construction committee would find solutions for that issue. One of them, he said, may involve staggering the opening times for the schools in the area.

“The traffic issue there isn’t about capacity, it’s about timing,” he said.

“There are a lot of sound, pedagogical reasons for delaying the start of the high school day. A lot of districts throughout North America have done that because studies have shown that teens experience something like jet lag in the morning, making it more difficult for them.

“If you start the high schools at 9 or 9:15 a.m. you could spread traffic out in the morning so it’s not so congested.”

At last week’s meeting, Champagne said he also brought up a stop-gap solution for high school students at Academie Parhelie.

As it stands, students and staff are running out of room at the school. The lack of space has created a ripple effect at the school, which, through overcrowding, has lost the use of its art, music and home economics classrooms.

The Grade 7-8 class now occupies those rooms. The portables, meanwhile, are used by the Grade 9-10 and 11-12 classes.

Two options have been identified by the board: to move the students to a wing at Porter Creek Secondary School, or to add a third portable at Ecole Emilie Tremblay.

Parents of those students have long complained about the situation, while enrolment at the school has risen steadily over the years.

There are currently 241 students registered at the school, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, up from 224 last year.

Ten years ago, there were only 112 students registered. But despite the growing number of elementary school students, the number of high school students has flatlined in recent years.

Painchaud said it’s a telltale sign that something needs to give.

“The reason why we need to do something now is because parents whose children are at the elementary school are considering sending their kids elsewhere once they get to Grade 9,” she said in January, after sending a stern letter to the French school board about the dangers of going another year without finding adequate space for the high school students.


Contact Myles Dolphin at