Education minister committed to new French school, says process must begin in next 6 months

Dale Kirby says he has to work fast to ensure Francophone students in St. John's have their promised new building in 2022.

New building promised at the end of five year deal with former Holy Cross building

Education Minister Dale Kirby says the crunch is on to build a new school for the Francophone community within the next five years. (CBC)

The province's education minister has doubled down on the promise for a new Francophone school in St. John's within the next five years.

Dale Kirby says the current five-year plan to house high school students at the former Holy Cross building will not end up being a permanent fix.

"It's not like we made a commitment for five years, and five years from now we're going to decide something," he told CBC/Radio-Canada. "We made a commitment that five years from now they'll have their facility."

The French school board threatened a constitutional challenge last fall, saying its space at L'École des Grand-Vents was too small and the school was "grotesquely underfunded."

Students from Grades 7-12 moved this year, taking over the former Holy Cross Junior High School.

Province is far from construction

A new school must first be passed through the next budget, or approved by the province's treasury board and cabinet. Then begins the process of acquiring land and issuing tenders.

Until this year, all students attending French school in St. John's were housed in one building. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

From his experience, Kirby said it takes four years to open a new school — meaning the clock is already ticking on his promise to the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador (CSFP).

"This process will have to be started within the next six months in order to open the doors," Kirby said.

Over the last several years, overcrowding became a growing issue at L'École des Grand-Vents with students from K-12 crammed into one place.

Moving from the building was not popular with all parents and students, but Kim Christianson, the CSFP's director of education, said the school was not designed for older students.

"[L'École des Grand-Vents] is not made for students that are at the senior level," she told CBC/Radio-Canada in May. "The gymnasium is not the full size for a high school. There are no science labs."

The former Holy Cross Junior High on Rocketts Road closed as a public school in June. Now, the province's education department is using it as the location for Grades 7-12 of the French school. (CBC)

The decision was made to move the high school students to the building that once housed Holy Cross Junior High on Ricketts Road. The building is owned by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John's.

The Department of Education, CSFP and the Catholic church reached a five-year agreement for use of the school.

Kirby said it is now on him to ensure the deal does not need to be extended.

"No pressure," he said with a laugh. "But it is my responsibility to bring this forward and be successful."