Plans to leave F.H. Collins without a gym for two and a half years as of March aren’t sitting well with students and parents.
Education Minister Scott Kent tried to quell concerns at a meeting in the school cafeteria last night. But he and his deputy minister, Valerie Royle, had to compete against the echoes and cheers from a volleyball game in the current gym next door.
When the game wrapped up, players joined the meeting and shared their concerns.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more use of drugs,” said 15-year-old Benjamin Grundmanis. “I mean, your gym’s down. What are you going to do? I think a lot of people might just go smoke a joint or something instead. What is there to do at lunch if we don’t have a gym?”
The Education Department plans to demolish the aging high school and build a new structure on the same lot. During construction, phys-ed students will be shuttled to facilities such as the Canada Games Centre, Mount McIntyre, the Takhini Arena, Leaping Feats dance studio, Yukon College and other Whitehorse schools.
Renting the spaces and transporting students will be covered by Yukon Education, which has set aside $180,000 to cover those costs, Royle said.
“We know bussing is not ideal, we don’t want kids on buses all day. We’re looking at ways we can reorganize and reprogram things at the school to make that happen,” said Royle.
Other plans include condensing phys-ed classes into double periods to allow for transportation time and converting the photography department and cafeteria into a multi-use and social area for kids to hang out in, said Royle.
“(The gym) often is the heart of the school. We know that, so we need to make plans for the next two and a half years so the kids who are here can have … all the things that kids in high school should have,” said Royle.
Parents have pressed for the department to build a temporary tent-covered gym, similar to the broomball facility in Takhini.
“The fact of the matter is that is almost $1.3 million to build, not including the cost to heat it for two and a half years. Quite frankly, and I’m not going to lie to you ‘cause that’s not who I am, that is not on the table. It is too much money,” said Royle.
She said the option was looked at, but only one quote was sought.
Rather than one-on-one discussions, parents asked to have their questions answered publicly as a group.
“Sure. Bring it,” said Royle.
What was meant to be an informal open house became a de facto question period, as the crowd of about 30 parents peppered the minister and deputy minister with questions.
“You said yourself that the gym is the heart of the school. What you’re doing is taking away the heart of the school, and that’s distressing for students,” said one woman.
Kent and Royle agreed the next three years will be inconvenient, but they stood by their plans, saying it’s too late to change them.
“That would mean walking away from millions of dollars in design costs for this building. It would mean walking away from, I think, $2 million to $3 million in site work that’s been done … We don’t want to walk away from the investment that’s already been made,” said Kent.
One man asked Kent whether he would reconsider the tent option if the winning bid for the construction contract is lower than the current $55.8 million budget, but Kent was non-committal about that, saying he couldn’t speculate until the contract tenders come back.
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