School reports says, do nothing

On Friday, Education Minister Patrick Rouble released the school facilities study. It was dated June 25th. The document is 57 pages long.

On Friday, Education Minister Patrick Rouble released the school facilities study.

It was dated June 25th.

The document is 57 pages long.

It says, basically, “do nothing.”

“The government has announced plans to build a new school in Copper Ridge and to renovate or rebuild FH Collins Secondary School,” says the report’s executive summary. 

“It should be clear that moving ahead with these projects, in a period of declining enrolments, could have a negative impact on other Whitehorse schools. 

“It will be advisable to proceed with caution.”

Victoria’s Hold Fast Consultants Inc. was contracted in December to examine the need for new school facilities in Copper Ridge, at FH Collins Secondary and Porter Creek Secondary

Hold Fast was paid $79,360.

The consultants held meetings with area residents, analyzed student enrolment and looked at Yukon demographics.

Hold Fast found that school enrolment is dropping in the territory.

Even relying on Yukon bureau of statistics’ high-growth models, the consultants found a dramatic decline in the school-age population over the next 10 to 15 years.

“In 1997, 4,777 students were enrolled in Whitehorse schools,” says the report.

“By 2006, 3,968 students were enrolled — a drop of 17 per cent over the past nine years.”

By 2020, it’s estimated Grade 12 enrolment will be down 33 per cent, from 2002.

But kindergarten enrolment will be up 33 per cent.

“Taken as a whole, Whitehorse schools are operating well below capacity levels and will continue to do so through to 2020,” says the report. 

“As of November 2006, there were 1,237 vacant seats in Whitehorse schools.”

The reports found some schools, including Elijah Smith Elementary and Holy Family Elementary are operating at, or near, capacity.

But other schools, such as Jack Hulland Elementary, Whitehorse Elementary, FH Collins Secondary and Porter Creek Secondary, “are operating well below their capacity levels.”

FH Collins Secondary has exceeded its life span by four years, according to engineering studies.

Based on 1996 values, the estimated cost of refurbishing the school ranged from $10,380,000 and $12,100,000 while the estimated cost of rebuilding the school was between $15, 300,000 and $15,900,000.

“Construction costs have tripled since 1996,” says the study.

Most area residents who responded to the questionnaire would prefer to see a new building on the site rather than refurbishing the existing school.

However, FH Collins enrolment is at 581 students, down from 1,000 students in 1997.

That’s a 40-per-cent decline.

“Secondary school enrolments in Whitehorse are expected to continue to decline through to about 2016 and then level off,” says the report.

“It would be an error, in our judgment, to build a new school or launch a major renovation to the existing buildings without completing a review of the school’s mission and how it relates to other schools in Whitehorse,” says the Hold Fast study.

Nor is a new school needed in Copper Ridge, according to the report.

The study considers the 165 Copper Ridge lots that have been released since 2006 and assumes that the 188 lots transferred to Kwanlin Dun will be developed.

If this happens, there will be an increase of about 145 students in the area, it states.

“About two thirds of these students are expected to attend Catholic schools, secondary schools or schools offering French programs.”

The remaining 54 students will likely attend local elementary schools.

“This works out to about seven additional students per elementary grade, well within existing capacity levels of area schools,” says the report.

In addition, a new school in Copper Ridge would “significantly decrease the school population of Elijah Smith Elementary,” altering the balance of First Nations and non-First Nations students at Elijah Smith Elementary — “an important ingredient related to the success of this school,” says the report.

The study recommends delaying the decision to build a new Copper Ridge school up to five years.

The Education department should immediately begin a comprehensive review of all Whitehorse schools, says the report.

“The review should consider factors including school programs, student population shifts within Whitehorse, as well as determine if, where, and when elementary and secondary schools be constructed.

“Decisions to build, rebuild or refurbish schools (should) occur only after the review is complete and a comprehensive long-term plan that addresses Whitehorse’s future infrastructure needs has been developed.”