$40 Million Requested for New South Hill School

Robert Thomas

Last month it was submitting the footprint of a 1000 student joint-use school to Moose Jaw City Council, this month it was submitting the application for major capital funding in 2019. And by all indications it's now in the hands of the provincial government.

At an estimated cost of $40 million, a proposed new joint-use elementary school on South Hill would help to increase efficiencies and provide all programming in one facility but would also mean the closure of two South Hill schools – Empire and Westmount.

That's according to the capital funding submission Prairie South School Division considered and submitted to the provincial Department of Education. The capital funding application is to be considered in next year’s 2019-2020 budget.

A joint-use school is one where the Public and Separate School divisions are in the same building and share facilities such as libraries, gymnasium and playground space; eliminating duplication and additional costs.

In the application for capital funding, Prairie South School Division cited the fact Empire Community School is 100 years old and how a new facility would allow greater functionality to better service the community it serves. A new facility would also allow greater functionality in terms of diversity, including English as an Additional Language (EAL) and First Nation and Métis (FNM) students.

Additionally, the demographic Empire serves has led to parenting and nutritional programming at the school. By moving elementary students to one large south Moose Jaw school, it would allow the programming to be expanded, the application stated.

Closure of Westmount School was cited due to challenges surrounding dropping off students, especially in the front entrance. Westmount was seen as needing upgrades if it was going to continue.

“It is something we should be celebrating and something to look forward to,” Trustee Giselle Wilson said.

The potential loss of Empire School and the availability of classroom space at Riverview Collegiate had Trustee Jan Radwanski speaking in opposition to the application for capital funding for a new school.

“Empire services a unique geographical area on South Hill and Riverview is at 27 percent (capacity),” Trustee Radwanski said adding that approving the applcation went “against our core values.”

Trustee Radwanski went on to state the application and potential closure of Empire Community School was a “disservice for the quality of life in Moose Jaw.”

Without proper community consultation, he felt the application for a proposed new “super school” of 1100 students was not advisable.

Radwanski said he did not oppose Westmount School being part of any new joint-use school, however.

Board Chair Tim McLeod disagreed with Trustee Radwanski, saying it was only an application and “irresponsible to speculate beyond that.”

“I think many of the comments of Mr. Radwanski are speculation and conjecture. I think the comment of a mega school of 1100 kids is mere speculation,” Trustee McLeod stated after previously calling the application "an opportunity and one that should be celebrated.”

The funding application even points to a potential location for the proposed joint use school and it's the Westmount School site.  During discussion, three potential locations were mentioned including one proposed by the City.

Consolidating two schools to a large elementary school would also reduce costs associated with utilities of operating multiple schools. Plus would also embrace LEAN principles by allowing reduction in administrative and transportation costs, the application stated.

Additionally, having all elementary students in one school would ease transition of grade eight students to high school.

For Holy Trinity School Division, the application stated that division was already high on the Education Department’s priority list due to the condition of their facilities.

A proposed planning and construction schedule included with the application showed actual construction beginning the following year.

The application additionally points out that south Moose Jaw growth as a reason to warrant the new school.

Whether or not funding is approved won't be known until next year’s budget. The province is to release this year’s budget on April 10th and by all indications it will continue the austerity policy of cutbacks in order to balance the Province’s books within three years. The austerity measures were deemed necessary by the Province following major drops in commodity prices, especially the price of oil in 2014 which affected the Province’s bottom line.

It was not known for certain if an actual application had been submitted by Holy Trinity School Division for their portion of the proposed joint use school but was expected.


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