Nfld. & Labrador

'Sexy' Galway site for new French school nearly twice price of Mount Pearl option

Newfoundland and Labrador’s French school board says the "fancy, modern“ area is the ideal location for a new school in the St. John’s area. But it won’t come cheap.

Francophone school board argues $1.5M difference justified

Kim Christianson, the director of education for Newfoundland and Labrador's francophone school board, says a $3.15-million site in Galway is the best option for building a new French school in St. John's. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's French school board says "sexy" Galway is the ideal location for a new school in the St. John's area. But it won't come cheap, with land costing more than $3 million — nearly twice as much as a second construction site the board considered in Mount Pearl.

According to documents prepared in October, purchasing a seven-acre property in the Galway development — referred to in the documents as "sexy, fancy, modern" — would cost the province $3.15 million. Another property of the same size in Mount Pearl, a location deemed "less nice," would cost $1.67 million.

Those documents were prepared by Kim Christianson, the Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador's director of education.

Despite the difference in price, the board's directors unanimously voted in 2018 to recommend the province acquire the Galway site.

Christianson said the new K-12 school's location is of "fundamental" importance, and the Galway site would help attract future students from the west end of St. John's, as well as nearby Paradise and Conception Bay South.

"I think, given our justifications, if there is a difference in costs, the board of directors of the school board is prepared to accept this difference," Christianson said.

But the analysis Christianson prepared in 2018 states both the Galway and Mount Pearl locations are in the right geographic area and could increase the board's enrolment. In an interview with CBC Radio-Canada, Christianson added that no matter where the new school is built, most students will need to be bused to the facility.

Still under development

The school board argued the property it considered in Mount Pearl is hillier than the Galway location and less accessible to school buses. It also said the Galway site on Beaumont Hamel Way is closer to services such as shopping centres and coffee shops, even though the massive housing and commercial development remains — at least for the moment — largely void of such amenities.

"By the time the school is built, there will be more services around the school," said Christianson. "We are seeing several businesses currently setting up and we can see things are expanding. We think that with a new school, this development will continue."

Christianson also said the Mount Pearl property, located on Masonic Drive, could not be expanded in the event the board required more space.

This is a map of the 500-student school and community centre the Francophone school board hopes to build in Galway. (Submitted by Conseil scolaire francophone provincial de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador)

But the $46.3-million school and community centre proposed by the board would already have space for 500 students — more than the French school board's entire provincewide enrolment for 2018-19.

DEWCor discount

Email exchanges obtained by Radio-Canada show that DewCor, the company owned by former premier Danny Williams that is behind the Galway development, offered the school board a 10 per cent discount if the province purchased the property by June 30. That deal offers the land at $450,000 per acre before tax.

The school board still needs the provincial government's approval before it can proceed with purchasing land and beginning construction on a second permanent school for the St. John's area.

Board officials had hoped to receive that go-ahead and funding in the most recent budget. Instead, they received $2.8 million to continue planning the new structure.

Education Minister Brian Warr would not comment on the board's decision to choose the land in Galway.

Brian Warr, named minister of education early this month, did not want to comment on the specifics of the francophone school board's choices. (Marie-Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

"I'm sure that locations have their strengths and their weaknesses, and I give them credit for making their choice and we will see where it goes," he said Monday, adding that the Department of Transportation and Works will analyze the project.  

Warr refused to comment on the feasibility of the $46.3 million project either.

''Again, that is a decision that is not left to me or my department, it's a decision that will be left to a cabinet and treasury board as we see it going forward,'' he said. 

The school board hopes the new facility will be open in time for the 2022-23 school year.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Clarifications

  • While the original proposal put the cost of the school at $46.3 million, the province says the current price tag of the project is $56 million.
    Jun 19, 2019 1:33 PM NT

About the Author

Patrick Butler is a Radio-Canada journalist based in St. John's. He previously worked for CBC News in Toronto and Montreal.

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