Winnipeg rejects Christian school's expansion plans

Westgate Mennonite Collegiate will not be able to renovate its grounds in Winnipeg after a city committee heard complaints from residents and denied the school permission.

A private school that has operated in a Winnipeg neighbourhood for more than 40 years may soon be looking for a new home after the city on Thursday denied it permission to expand.

Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, an Anabaptist Christian school for students in Grades 7-12, has been in Armstrong Point for 44 of its 50 years and has already expanded twice.

But in a decision late Thursday, a Winnipeg city committee denied the  latest request for expansion, after hearing for hours from area residents who complained about traffic congestion and the clash between the growing institution and the small neighbourhood's heritage homes.

The school, which has enrolled up to 320 pupils in the recent past and said it wanted to increase that to 375 via a 15,600-square-foot addition, had already been turned down once and has no more avenues of appeal.

"They are a wonderful institution. They need room to expand," said resident Doug Arrell, who has lived next door to the school for 18 years. "Many other schools in their situation have moved to larger premises, which are much more suitable for a school."

Vice-principal Ozzie Rempel said leaving Armstrong Point is now a possibility, albeit a laborious and costly one.

"The central location is something that's been very, very important to our constituency," Rempel said. "We have students coming to Westgate from all over the city, and a number of them have now moved into the region that's relatively close to the school, so that a central location would be a priority. And those are few and far between."

School officials said they will meet in the fall to consider what to do next.