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.
In a June 3 news release, the Yukon government announced the school was chosen as a “top priority for replacement based on the age and condition of the facility and its inability to meet current and future programming and community needs, including access to spaces for innovative, inclusive and experiential learning.”
The new replacement school will be built on the Takhini Educational Land Reserve, which the release indicates has room for two schools.
In the release, construction of the new school there will not interfere with programming at the neighbouring Takhini Elementary School located on the same parcel of land on Range Road.
The release highlights better access to green space as an advantage of the new spot.
“The new school design will focus on providing flexible, multi-use spaces that emphasize collaborative, experiential learning,” reads the release.
The release was light on details such as when the school will be ready for students, how many students it will be able to take and whether programming will continue as before.
Scott Kent, the Yukon Party education critic, told the News on June 7 that he is overall pleased this is happening.
Kent is curious about replacement and renovation plans for rural schools. He said Ross River School is in “really tough shape” with cracking walls, plywood-covered windows and a bat infestation in the school over the past number of years.
“I think the biggest concern with that [announcement] is the lack of consultation that we saw,” he said, for example, with school communities, school council chairs and other affected stakeholders such as Softball Yukon, which runs three ball diamonds on the land in the designated area.
“It doesn’t sound like they were consulted,” he said.
George Arcand is the executive director of Softball Yukon, which is the governing body for the sport in the territory.
“We just heard about it the same as everybody else,” he said. “There’s been no consultation with us about the project.”
Despite the lack of information that Arcand has been provided with, given the footprint of another school and a parking lot, he speculated that “pretty much takes care of the three ballparks because it’ll take all the land.”
Arcand said he would have liked to have been party to the conversations that were being had with regards to the land – not that his group would have tried to stop the project, but they could have looked into other options for the ballparks.
He estimated that about “half or more” of the people playing ball today would not have a field to play on without any additional diamonds to replace those fields.
“It would very drastically curtail what we’re able to do,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NDP MLAs for the new and current school locations in two different electoral ridings were “blindsided” by the June 3 announcement.
“As you can imagine, people in Whitehorse Centre are concerned that the government has no intention of rebuilding a school,” Kate White, who is NDP Leader and MLA for Takhini-Kopper King, said by phone on June 7.
“People in the downtown area absolutely deserve and need to have a school that they can attend.”
Furthermore, White said the idea of a new Takhini-based school up the hill in an “already taxed kind of transportation corridor is quite stressful to people.”
White said she looks forward to the government making more announcements about community meetings, detailed plans and timelines for the school replacement project.
In the government’s five-year capital plan, an elementary school replacement project in Whitehorse is slotted for $45.2 million to $56.5 million, ending in 2025-26.
A document on Whitehorse school replacement rankings states the school is in “poor condition overall” and has accessibility, lighting and acoustic issues.
The document states the school is above its intended capacity limit.
“Due to its overall age, condition and significant seismic upgrading requirements, upgrading this school is not an economical option. Over the building life, a replacement school will be more cost effective and energy efficient,” reads the document.
The document prioritizes Whitehorse schools for replacement or major capital upgrades, with École Whitehorse Elementary School at the top of the list. It ranks École Selkirk Elementary School in second and Takhini Elementary School in third.
The release brings into question the future of other schools in the long run.
“In tandem with this work, the Government of Yukon will be working closely with the Chiefs Committee on Education and the Yukon First Nation School Board to begin conversations about the future of Takhini Elementary School and the vision of the newly established First Nations School Board,” reads the release.
“Engagement with the broader Whitehorse community and partners is planned for this fall to determine a long-term plan for replacing and renovating other aging Whitehorse schools.”
In a joint email response on June 8, the Yukon government’s Education and Highways and Public Works departments confirmed the replacement École Whitehorse Elementary School will continue to operate for the same grades and French immersion programming will continue to be provided to students.
The departments did not have information to provide about cost and timelines.
The email addressed that the Takhini school is a priority aging school but does not elaborate.
As for the softball and sports fields, the departments said they will be in contact with affected groups, noting that the reserve is a large land parcel and there are not yet plans for how the pieces of infrastructure will fit.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org