Construction is expected to begin this summer on a new French Catholic high school in Espanola, but it comes with a multi-million dollar price tag — something that has other school boards wondering if it's a good use of dwindling education dollars.

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Espanola High School currently shares its physical space with Ecole secondaire catholique Franco-Ouest. (nouvelon.ca)

Currently the almost 50 French Catholic high school students in Espanola go to class inside an English public high school.

Marcel Montpellier, who is the chair of the French Catholic board, said the arrangement hasn't always been easy.

"When you're [a] tenant, you don't have full control over gymnasium schedules," he said. "The complaint is that we're leaving the school now [and] we're going to be leaving the school half empty. But I don't think the 49 students are going to make a big difference."

Building amid belt-tightening

But English public school board chair Doreen Dewar said it will make a difference, and make Espanola High —which has about 700 students — more expensive to run if the building is partially empty.

Some also fear it will lead to school closures in the small town.

Dewar said she's surprised the province would consider this project given all the talk of belt-tightening at Queen's Park.

She said she doesn’t have to justify "a brand new multi-million dollar facility for 40 students … but the province may have to."

Montpellier noted, however, "It’s hard to develop your culture and keep your French language when you're vastly assimilated in a large high school."

The French Catholic board is now waiting on the province to sign a $10 million cheque for the new school, which it hopes will open in the fall of 2013. The school will be built on the same property as the French Catholic elementary school. They are expected to share some facilities, such as the library.