North

Space is tight at Whitehorse schools — and may get tighter

'The population is growing, we've heard that, the economy is booming, people are wanting to move to Whitehorse and clearly wanting to settle here,' said education minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.

Yukon government wants to buy some portables, but can't find any for sale

École Émilie-Tremblay school in Whitehorse added a third portable classroom in 2016. The Yukon government wants to buy more portables for other schools, but hasn't been able to find any. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Whitehorse's elementary schools are "at or near capacity," according to the territorial government — and there's no immediate relief in sight.

"There are enrollment pressures at schools, we completely recognize that," said Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee on Wednesday.

"The population is growing, we've heard that, the economy is booming, people are wanting to move to Whitehorse and clearly wanting to settle here."

McPhee says it's an issue for all elementary schools in Whitehorse, but said some are under more pressure than others. For example, Golden Horn Elementary could use a portable classroom right now.

The trouble is, there are no portables to be found. A government tender issued last spring got no response, McPhee said.

'People are wanting to move to Whitehorse and clearly wanting to settle here,' said Yukon's Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"Our subsequent investigation sort of revealed that there just are not portables to buy in Western Canada," McPhee said.

"Nobody is needing them this minute — there's no kids in hallways, there's no issues with that — but we would like to buy four or five because we are trying to project enrollment going forward."

Whistle Bend growing

MLA Geraldine Van Bibber, who represents a Porter Creek riding, says the pressure on some schools will certainly grow — especially as more kids from the new Whistle Bend subdivision are bussed to nearby schools in her neighbourhood, or Hidden Valley.

"With Whistle Bend growing larger every year, there are going to be ever-increasing pressures on the numbers at these schools," she said.

Whistle Bend is now home to about 640 families, according to McPhee, with about 100 school-age children. 

The Whistle Bend subdivision is growing, and is expected to continue to grow as the city develops and sells more lots. (Vic Istchenko/CBC)

Van Bibber pressed the government in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday to explain its plans, but McPhee did not elaborate beyond referring to her department's work on a long term capital plan, "to address these situations."

Brian Laird, who lives in Whistle Bend, says there's at least one simple solution — build a new school in his neighbourhood. There's an empty lot there that city planners set aside for just that purpose.

'We are really behind the 8 ball'

Laird is a grandparent, and he's sat on school councils in the past. He says he values education, and he's been pushing officials to get busy on planning a new Whistle Bend school.

So far, he's been frustrated by an apparent lack of action.

"There's a demand right now for education for these children right in Whistle Bend, rather than having to bus them all over the city," he said.

"If they're not even prepared to start the planning, then we are really behind the eight ball."

Laird even wants to form a school council to help plan the new school, but the education department says there can't be a school council until there's a school — "kind of like a catch-22," Laird says.

For now, Laird's planning something else — the first annual school photograph. He's asking Whistle Bend parents to bring their children to the empty lot on Saturday for a group portrait. The students will pose with a banner reading "Whistle Bend School." 

"We'll do that every year until we get a school," he said.

With files from Nancy Thomson and Mike Rudyk

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