A request for proposals seeking consultant services for the future of École Whitehorse Elementary School suggests demolishing Takhini Elementary School is not out of the question.
The bid also indicates the Yukon government has yet to determine the adequacy of the Takhini Education Land Reserve as an appropriate site for replacing École Whitehorse Elementary School.
In a release on June 3, 2022, the Yukon government announced École Whitehorse Elementary School will be replaced at a new location outside of downtown. The facility built in 1950 is the only school functioning in the city’s centre. It is a French immersion school for students in kindergarten to Grade 7.
The new replacement school will be built on the Takhini Educational Land Reserve, according to the release, which states the site has room for two schools. The site contains Takhini Elementary School, which the First Nation School Board oversees, and softball fields.
In a March 29 letter, the heads of Sport Yukon and Softball Yukon wrote to the premier and several ministers objecting to the “absence of any communication and consultation” with them surrounding the proposed building of a new elementary school in the Takhini neighbourhood. The NDP MLAs for the new and current school locations in two different electoral ridings were “blindsided” by the announcement. The Yukon Party has been critical of what they call a lack of consultation.
Now the Yukon government is looking to hire a consultant team to confirm the suitability of the lot and design of the new school.
According to the bid, the replacement school will be classified as tier 3 and fit between 425 and 600 students. Recent enrollment data shows École Whitehorse Elementary School currently has about 470 students enrolled. Takhini Elementary School has close to 140 students.
If the Takhini Educational Land Reserve is deemed adequate, then three concept plan options will be presented, each showing a different building location and configuration of the site.
If the findings show that demolishing Takhini Elementary School is the best option or one of the preferred approaches, then the government may add demolition design and administration work into the subsequent contract.
If the site is not appropriate, then other sites may be looked at.
As per the request for proposals, the project’s construction budget is estimated to be $45 million to $55 million not including consulting costs and the timeline for the site analysis and test fit will be July to August 2023.
More questions than answers
The request for proposals raises more questions than answers for the two opposition leaders.
“This seems like work that should have been done before the decision was made to use this location,” Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said.
In a May 23 interview by phone, Dixon said the request for proposals contradicts what the Education minister has previously said in the legislature and in the media. He wonders what the potential demolition of Takhini Elementary School means for students who are currently enrolled and how the plan fits into the government’s larger capital planning initiative.
“I think that [the Yukon government] should be a little bit more transparent about whether or not they’re willing to consider other sites, because this [request for proposals] certainly is contradictory to what the minister told me at the legislature just a few months ago,” he said.
“We had always been assured by the government that the school would not need to be demolished and that the intent from the minister was to have the two schools co-located on that lot.”
Yukon NDP, Leader Kate White said by phone May 23 that she is curious about what the government has been basing its decisions on so far and when the Education department is going to have conversations with Takhini residents and school communities.
“It just really looks like the Liberals are making it up as they go and that’s a concern, I think, to everyone,” she said.
“It’s not a matter of nimbyism.”
White said other new developments have already contributed to traffic problems on Range Road. She said she has been receiving letters from people in the area who have questions that she can’t answer.
No plans to combine schools
In an email response, Clarissa Wall, who works in communications for the department, reiterated the exact location of the new school on the Takhini Education Land Reserve has not yet been determined.
“An assessment of the entire Takhini Education Land Reserve conditions (available area, topography, drainage, etc.) is necessary before finalizing the location of the new school,” Wall said.
Wall said the consultants will assess the land, test different areas for potential school locations, summarize their findings and provide recommendations on optimal or feasible locations.
“The government of Yukon is keeping options open until we have further information to guide planning decisions. Once more details related to location options on the reserve are determined, the department of Education will work with the First Nation School Board, Softball Yukon, the project advisory committee, the City of Whitehorse and community on next steps,” Wall said.
Wall said that being a tier 3 school means that it will be built to accommodate 425 to 600 students.
“This meets the needs of the current enrollment from École Whitehorse Elementary School and the expected growth for that school’s population,” Wall said.
Wall reiterated the site has room for two schools.
“Once the government of Yukon has these recommendations, they will be used to make further planning decisions. There are currently no plans to combine the two schools.”
Education Minister, Jeanie McLean, previously said the door is not closed on a downtown school, but the structure that currently houses École Whitehorse Elementary School is not sufficient.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com