Calgary

WinSport offers to lease space for $1 if National Sport School stays

Support is mounting to keep the National Sport School at WinSport after the Calgary Board of Education announced the specialized program would either have to move or shut down.

14,000 supporters sign petition urging CBE to keep school at Canada Olympic Park

Olympic speed skater Denny Morrison is among the 14,000 who have signed a petition urging the CBE to keep the National Sport School at Canada Olympic Park. (Derek Leung/ISU/Getty Images)

WinSport Canada is offering to cover the majority of the cost of running the National Sport School out of its facilities for at least one year in an effort to convince the Calgary Board of Education to keep the program in place.

It says it's offered to lease the space for the 2020-21 school year for $1.

"We're optimistic that we can convince CBE that there's what I'll call an Option C," said Bernie Asbell, vice-president of sport operations at WinSport.

"[It] gives us a little bit of a lifeline where we can reduce the cost in working with CBE. We can come up with alternative plans to save money for them, find alternate sources of some revenues, and cost absorptions, so that we can keep the school alive and working right at WinSport." 

The high school is run by the CBE in partnership with WinSport. It was designed to support high performance athletes who are often away several weeks of the school year.

In a presentation to families and staff in November, the CBE said the program's current location at WinSport's facilities at Canada Olympic Park was always temporary.

It said that with the lease set to expire in June 2020, the CBE would either move the program to a high school, likely Bowness High, or close it altogether and have students attend their designated schools.

The CBE said it's not financially sustainable to keep the program running at WinSport.

WinSport's savings offer

Asbell says WinSport has offered to absorb most of the school's operating costs at the site for a minimum of one year — a savings he says is worth about $100,000. Asbell says that would include everything from heat and lights to janitorial services.

Asbell says it's a huge amount of money, but keeping students — many of whom train there — would be worth it.

He says more than 170 students who have graduated from the National Sport School have gone on to compete on national teams and win medals while representing Canada.

The National Sport School is surrounded by training facilities at the base of the ski hill at Canada Olympic Park. The facilities are operated by WinSport. (Google Maps)

Asbell says the school's parent council would also be open to changing some of the teacher-student ratios, by cutting staff and adding more IT supports, if it meant keeping the school at WinSport.

Asbell says the class sizes vary because of students' travel schedules but are generally smaller than most mainstream classrooms.

"I think cumulatively the CBE, WinSport and the parents can find avenues to save, you know, a number of hundred thousand dollars that will make the school much more viable from the CBE's perspective," said Asbell.

Support Mounts

A former student has launched an online petition aimed at persuading the CBE to allow the program to stay. In a few weeks, more than 14,000 people, including parents, staff and current and former students, have signed. The goal is 15,000 signatures.

The petition says, "the NSS is larger than just a school, it develops great leaders, role models and Olympic champions that the entire country can be proud of." It urges people to contact the board of trustees, the education minister and Calgary's mayor.

Olympic speed skater Denny Morrison is among those who signed it, saying "Calgary and Alberta can do better."

CBE gathers feedback

In an email, a spokesperson for the public school board told CBC News: "To clarify, WinSport has not offered to cover the National Sport School (NSS) operating costs. WinSport has offered the opportunity for a one-year lease extension for $1.

"Although this generous offer would reduce operating costs by approximately $100,000 for one year, it would still require the CBE to invest over $900,000 in costs that could be avoided if student athletes were supported in a different fashion out of an existing CBE high school."

The school board says moving the program would save approximately $1 million.

The National Sport School is staffed with 10 teachers, which is four more than a typical high school this size.

The National Sport School is located beside four ice rinks. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

The CBE says it is gathering feedback from staff, students, parents and stakeholders through discussions and an online survey that is open until Dec. 17.

It says the feedback will be considered along with other factors such as budget, legislative requirements and available space and resources in order to make the decision that will be recommended to the trustees.

Administration will present a report to the board in February.

A final decision about the future location and delivery of the program will be made by the trustees by end of May 2020. 

About the Author

Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.