Downtown Montreal to get 2 new schools, but elsewhere classrooms still bursting at seams

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx unveiled plans for a new school on the old Grey Nuns site and the renovation of the vacant Académie Bourget, part of a $608-million fund for school expansions this year.

Elementary schools on Grey Nuns site and in vacant Académie Bourget will ease strain on St-Léon-de-Westmount

Quebec Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced Friday his ministry will fund two new elementary schools in downtown Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal's largest school board will be receiving funding to build two new elementary schools in downtown Montreal, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx announced Friday.

But the French-language Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), which has schools bursting at the seams in VillerayRosemont and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, still has school expansion projects awaiting approval in other parts of its territory.

A brand new school will be built on what's now an empty lot on the historic Grey Nuns site at the corner of Ste-Catherine and St-Mathieu streets. That school will be big enough to accommodate 26 classes, Proulx said.

Académie Bourget, a century-old school building that's been sitting empty, will be renovated to accommodate 300 students.

The schools will be paid for out of a $608-million fund which Proulx announced earlier this week for school renovation and expansion projects across Quebec.

The former Académie Bourget on de la Montagne Street will be renovated and will become a new elementary school in downtown Montreal. (Benoît Chapdelaine/Radio-Canada)

Friday's news conference was held at the vacant Académie Bourget on de la Montagne Street.

Ironically, that school was built in 1914 because of overcrowding at that time, said the chair of the CSDM, Catherine Harel-Bourdon, before Proulx's announcement. 

"More than 100 years later, history repeats itself," she said.

"We're going to work hard to maintain momentum and allow other areas to see space and new schools come to life," said Harel-Bourdon.

People with young families living in the Shaughnessy Village area have been lobbying for a new elementary school to be built on the site of the old Montreal Children's Hospital, however, there was no mention of that possibility at Friday's news conference.

"The needs are high," said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who also attended the announcement. "There certainly would be space to add a third [school downtown]."

She said that would be up for discussion in the years to come.
Commission scolaire de Montréal president Catherine Harel-Bourdon said she's hoping more expansion and renovation projects for Montreal schools are approved. (Radio-Canada)

Proulx acknowledged the lack of space in Montreal schools, which parents, teachers and school boards have decried for years. 

"It's a reality here downtown and everywhere where there is growing density. We're showing flexibility, agility; we're working with you to make it better," Proulx said.

Still no plan for Saint-Léon-de-Westmount

One of the CSDM's most overcrowded schools is Saint-Léon-de-Westmount. Recent arrivals — many of them new immigrants and refugees — have been relegated to an annex in Saint-Henri, on the other side of the Ville-Marie Expressway.
Saint-Léon-de-Westmount has been overcrowded for years. In 2015, the school had to convert its library into a Grade 6 classroom. (Radio-Canada)

Harel-Bourdon said the Westmount school is one of the schools the school board is hoping to expand, but she is hopeful that the two new downtown schools will ease the pressure on Saint-Léon.

Proulx did say school officials can expect more announcements in the coming weeks. He said the province is investing $163 million in a total of 13 projects on the island of Montreal.

Among them, a CSDM high school, Sophie-Barat, and an elementary school in Pointe-aux-Trembles, Sainte-Marguerite-Bourgeoys, will be expanded.

As well, the greenhouses of the CSDM's horticultural school on Hochelaga Street, the École des Métiers des Faubourgs-de-Montréal, will be rebuilt and a new elementary school will be built next door. 

With files from Radio-Canada