Yukon's new francophone high school opens Friday

Yukon's newest high school, the Paul-Émile Mercier Secondary School Community Centre, is set to open its doors this week to welcome about 85 students. 

School to serve wider role in Whitehorse as performing arts venue

The Paul-Émile Mercier Secondary School Community Centre in Whitehorse is set to open Friday. ( Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon's newest high school, the Paul-Émile Mercier Secondary School Community Centre, is set to open its doors this week to welcome about 85 students. 

The executive director of the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon, the French-language school board, says the school will provide needed space for students who had been cramped at Académie Parhélie, which is Whitehorse's previous location for high school in French, taught within École Émilie-Tremblay.

Marc Champagne said the biggest difference for students will be "just having all the different spaces that will allow them to do things they've never been able to do before. Having a music room, a kitchen where they can learn culinary arts, the theatre space."

The new school includes a commercial kitchen which community groups will be able to access, though COVID-19 protocols will prevent this for the indeterminate future.

The school includes a kitchen where students can learn culinary skills. ( Philippe Morin/CBC)

Calling it a "community centre" signals the intention to use facilities for the wider community in Whitehorse as well as Yukon's sports, arts and cultural scene. Champagne said the sharing model is a win-win.

"Federal funding has allowed the school to add a lot of spaces that are going to be used by students during the day, but then are going to be able to be shared by the community [in the] evenings and weekends and days that students aren't going to be here," he said. 

About $7.5 million of the school's $35-million cost was allocated through the federal Department of Canadian Heritage, under the condition the space be used as a venue for the performing arts in the wider community. 

One example is the atrium, which can hold 200 people and includes space for a stage or tables.

"It's going to allow banquets and community gatherings of all sorts. Certainly the gymnasium will be shared with the community. There's the possibility of doing theatre or cinema, we've got a small recording studio so there's an opportunity to record radio broadcasts or podcasts. There's a lot of possibility," Champagne said.

Court case

Plans to expand and replace Académie Parhélie had been in discussion since at least 2007.

However, funding and plans for the school were the subject of about 10 years of litigation between the Yukon government and the Commission Scolaire Francophone du Yukon.

The Yukon government's original plan for a new school was for francophone students to share certain facilities such as a gym and shop space with another high school.

The gymnasium is expected to be one facility at the new building that will be shared with the community. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Yukon ruled the Yukon government had an obligation to build a separate school.

In 2014, the Yukon government won an appeal of that decision at the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 2020, the Yukon government and the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon reached an agreement and have since discussed matters out of court.

Modern space

The new school is a bright, modern space. Its colours of white, grey and bright orange evoke the S.S. Klondike which is nearby beside the Yukon River, with its bright orange paddle wheel and white sides.

The school's sports teams and mascot will be the Lynx.

The new school is a bright, modern space. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Inside the building, there is less traditional classroom space and more adaptable space. For instance, many walls can be rolled into place to divide or open spaces as needed.

The school also includes space for music, dance and even a dedicated room for student radio and sound recording.

Many rooms have little quiet nooks padded with acoustic foam, where a person could sit and read a book against the window.

Over budget

The school's final cost is about $7.9 million more than projected, and comes to a total of $35.3 million.

That's less than it's neighbour F.H. Collins Secondary School, which cost more than $54 million after various overruns.

The schools however have different capacities, with 700 and 150 students being the maximum respectively for F.H. Collins and Paul-Émile Mercier.

Due to COVID-19, there will not be large community event to open the new school.

However, students will gather outside the school to see flags raised on the first day of class on Friday.


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