Those who attended a meeting at the Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS) Monday night learned what school facilities in Estevan could look like eventually.
But it was stressed repeatedly during the meeting that this is the first step in the process, and there is still a long ways to go.
More than 50 people attended the meeting, which started by offering a look into the future of ECS, but then branched off into a study of the future of Estevan’s elementary schools.
The South East Cornerstone Public School Division, the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division, the City of Estevan and the Estevan Police Service hosted the meeting. The city and the police were in attendance because they have come on board as partners for an expanded ECS, and their presence would help solve the utilization problem facing the school.
Liam Choo Foo, who is working as a consultant for the project, told the crowd that the school board first started looking at the future of ECS in 2017.
“These comprehensive schools were built all over the province in the 1950s and 1960s,” Choo Foo told the crowd. “Guess what? They’re all coming to the end of their life, right around the same time.”
When they were built, the focus of comprehensive schools was on the trades, so that kids could go out and get jobs. But they were overbuilt in those trades areas.
“You will not see any new school built in Saskatchewan that has anywhere close to the same type of equipment and space for trades. You got this? You need to fight like hell to keep it,” said Choo Foo.
Maintaining the current level of programming was the top priority for people who responded to the survey said maintaining that level of programs was the top priority.
If nothing is done, then eventually the school will have to be replaced.
The plan released Monday calls for two joint-use schools in Estevan. The first will be for ECS to be renovated and converted to a Grade 7-12 school, with the mechanical issues to be corrected and the life of the building extended. Having Grade 7 and 8 students will improve the utilization rate.
Catholic Grade 7 and 8 students will form a school within a school at ECS. Choo Foo compared it to when the Southeast College had its Estevan campus at ECS, with their own entrance and dedicated classrooms.
“This is all just conceptual, high-level conceptual stuff,” he said.
ECS had about 750 students for the 2019-20 school year, well below its maximum utilization of more than 1,420 students, making it very difficult to get funding from the provincial government for an expansion. Enrolments for Grades 9-12 in Estevan aren’t expected to increase, either.
The other joint-use school would see five of Estevan’s existing elementary schools – Pleasantdale, Westview and Hillcrest for the Cornerstone Division, and St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart/Sacre Coeur for Holy Family – consolidated into one large kindergarten to Grade 6 school, with one side for Catholic students and the other side for Cornerstone students.
Choo Foo told the crowd that the two Catholic schools have about $3.35 million in upgrades that are needed, while the three Cornerstone schools have more than $4.6 million in needs for electrical, roofing and even structural issues.
While the three Cornerstone schools received renovations in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the renovation at St. Mary’s was completed in 2001, issues remain for those schools.
The proposed joint-use K-6 school would have separate gymnasiums, libraries and other amenities for the Cornerstone and Holy Family students, but other amenities, such as a band room, would be shared.
Choo Foo doesn’t expect there would be cuts to teaching staff due to this move.
Spruce Ridge would remain open since it was constructed in 2003, but it would be converted to a K-6 school.
“This would be dependent on Project A being approved,” Choo Foo said. “You can’t do this unless the upgrades at the Comp. are accomplished, and the 7s and 8s move here.”
He conceded it would be tough to see the schools close, because people like to have their neighbourhood schools. But he doesn’t believe the current system is sustainable, and he believes there would be long-term benefits, with superior facilities in Estevan for decades.
“We have two boards that have studied this for a long time already, and they believe this is the best value for the kids,” said Choo Foo.
If the renovations at the Comp. proceed, then the joint-use elementary school should also happen, because it doesn’t make sense to solve a utilization rate issue at the Comp. by bringing more kids in, and creating utilization issues at other schools.
Choo Foo is the former director of education for the Chinook School Division in the southwest. While at Chinook, a joint-use elementary school was constructed in Swift Current that brought about 1,000 students from two public and two Catholic schools together.
He noted that it took about 13 years for that project to be completed.
Recent submissions that have been successful have had a partnership, and Choo Foo said the partnerships with the city and the police are a big step forward.
Several other people spoke during the meeting. Audrey Trombley, who is the chairperson for the Cornerstone board, said they would be engaging in conversations over the next several years.
Mayor Roy Ludwig said the city is interested in a potential project down the road, such as partnering with the school boards on a field house project or a performing arts centre. A field house is being constructed in Weyburn as part of a new school in that city, and a performing arts centre was included in the renovation and expansion of the Weyburn Comprehensive School.
Police Chief Paul Ladouceur attended the meeting but didn’t speak, however, Choo Foo believes it would be beneficial to have a satellite office for the police at the Comp., which would allow for greater interaction between students and police.
People who attended the meeting received forms so that they could jot down any questions they have about the changes to school facilities. A formal question and answer was not held during the meeting.
The school boards will be submitting an application at the end of next month for the project to be included in the 2021-22 provincial budget.