Outside firm secures $200,000 school study

Winnipeg-based Proactive Information Services Inc. will assess programming at FH Collins Secondary School.

Winnipeg-based Proactive Information Services Inc. will assess programming at FH Collins Secondary School.

The $200,000 study was prompted by a $79,000 school facilities study by Victoria-based Hold Fast Consultants Inc., which recommended further study.

That report was based on a previous report.

The government commissioned the consulting firm “to review and make recommendations for the future facility needs … of FH Collins Secondary School,” reads Hold Fast’s executive summary.

Then the consultants recommended the Education department: “Review the program directions of FH Collins Secondary and prepare a vision for the future.”

Hold Fast bid on that second contract.

It didn’t get it.

“We’ve already had our first meeting and are into planning and consultation,” Education assistant deputy minister Christie Whitley said on Friday.

Last fall, five consulting companies bid on the project, including two Yukon groups, Whitehorse’s Emmerson Longlade Consulting Group and Watson Lake’s Enterprise Skills.

In early December, Emmerson Longlade was informed it didn’t meet the technical contract requirements, said a spokesperson.

Enterprise Skills could not be reached for comment.

The second study was necessary because the first one’s scope was too narrow, said Hold Fast president Bruce McAskill.

It looked at whether FH Collins should be rebuilt or refurbished. It also considered the possibility of building a school in Copper Ridge.

“But any new or refurbished school would have implications for other schools,” said McAskill.

“And it was necessary to determine the type of school the community wanted before making a final recommendation where it would be located or what kind of size it would be, and so on.

“There are too many factors that need to be taken into account and one of the significant factors was the impact of a new or refurbished school on neighbouring areas.

“This was not part of the original study.”

Whitley could not explain why the impact of a new or refurbished school on neighbouring areas was not part of the first feasibility study.

“I wasn’t here in the Yukon when they did that first study,” she said.

There have been feasibility studies done before, including one several years ago on FH Collins, said McAskill.

Hold Fast used the previous study to help compile its $79,000 FH Collins report, he said.

The new study is different, said Whitley.

“It will look at the programming that will be housed in any new facility so that the building is designed around the programming, rather than programming having to fit the building.”

The plan is to broaden the programs already offered to include First Nations content, said Whitley.

“And, we want to bring First Nations context to Yukon programs, so those Yukoners who aren’t First Nations understand the First Nation reality that is part of our community.

“We want the new facility to really give us some flexibility in terms of meeting the needs of kids and the needs of community.”

FH Collins “has a huge variety of embedded issues,” said local consultant Gaye Hanson, citing aboriginal education challenges, the teen-moms’ centre and a French immersion program.

And there should be some local consultants working on the study, said Hanson, who didn’t bid on the project.

“But it’s not as simple as Outside firms are bad and inside firms are good,” she said.

“The difficulty with some of these things is the qualification of the consultants.

“With something this big I would never have gone with just a Yukon-based team.

“But the problem is, if you just have an Outside consulting team there’s nobody that has a clue as to the Yukon context.”

Hanson would like to see a consulting team comprised of locals and Outsiders.

Winnipeg’s Proactive is considering training some locals to help with consultation, said Whitley.

But that’s not the same as hiring local experts.

“When they go with an Outside team with no Yukon content, I sometimes worry the reason for that is they want to be able to tell the Outside consultants only what the bureaucrats want them to know,” said Hanson.

“So then they are in a situation where they can manipulate and drive the consultants in certain ways. While if there’s a Yukon consultant who’s been around for awhile, there might be an interesting sort of dialogue back and forth.”

There’s a lot at stake, said Hanson, who was recently the lead consultant on a national observation of band-operated federal schools.

“There’s very legitimate reasons why government needs to do this work and they’re fearful how it’s going to come out — the worry about what it’s going to say about our success or failure and how all this is shaping up.”

Yukon education is unique, she said.

“We have to be careful we don’t go and grab a best practice from somewhere else without any thought or adaptation to the Yukon context.

“We can’t just drag it in and say, ‘If it works in downtown Toronto it’s going to work in the Yukon.”

The territory’s population is scattered, said Hanson.

“We don’t have big chunks of kids with similar issues — we have one of these, two of those, four of these and they’re spread all over.”

Outside consultants need to be aware of this, she said.

“We’re living in a northern context that involves rural and remote areas, so that’s different. It involves very powerful self-governments and land claims with long-term implementations.”

In the communities, educators grapple with providing specialized services, she said.

“We’ve got kids that need educational psychological support and kids that need special educational intervention because of disabilities, and trying to get those education services to the communities is really difficult.

“So we need someone from here” on the consulting team, she said.

“Or someone who’s spent time here recently.”