PEI

From thrilled to disappointed: P.E.I. school capital projects get mixed reviews

While Stratford parents were celebrating a new high school for their community, the chair of the French Language School Board was disappointed that there was no money for the Evangeline school in the P.E.I. capital budget.

You can't keep everybody happy all of the time, says education minister

In August, Stratford released a proposal for a two-school complex that would include a junior high school and a high school, multiple sport fields and a rink. (Town of Stratford)

While Stratford parents were celebrating a new high school for their community, the chair of the French Language School Board was disappointed that there was no money for the Evangeline school in the P.E.I. capital budget.

Finance Minister Heath MacDonald tabled the capital budget for 2019-20, totalling $157 million, in the legislature Friday morning.

It includes $38 million for the construction of a new high school in Stratford, but not for a junior high.

'We're disappointed that the department didn't follow our priority number one,' says Émile Gallant, chair of the French Language School Board, of no money in the budget for the Evangeline school. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In August, Stratford released a proposal for a two-school complex that would include a junior high school and a high school, multiple sport fields and a rink.

"I'm hopeful frankly that this is a first step toward that plan," said Stratford parent Lindy McQuillan.

"I understand based on what I've read today that the Town of Stratford will be donating the land and hopefully they can acquire sufficient land to eventually have two schools because I think that's what we need."

Stratford parent Lindy McQuillan started a Facebook group called Parents Concerned With Over Crowded Schools. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

McQuillan says most Stratford parents she's talked to are "thrilled" with the announcement of a new high school. 

"High school is absolutely where the priority is today, that's where we're going to experience the biggest overcrowding the soonest," McQuillan said.

"It's more than just Stratford parents that are thrilled. What we're dealing with here is overcrowding at the junior high and high school levels for the greater Charlottetown area."

No money for Evangeline school

 For Émile Gallant, chairman of the French Language School Board on P.E.I., the capital budget came up short.

"We're disappointed that the department didn't follow our priority number one," Gallant said. 

"This is what we've been asked by the department over the last few years to establish priorities and we did that this year, we established that Evangeline school was a priority." 

Émile Gallant, chair of the French Language School Board, says the Evangeline school is priority number one. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Earlier this week, Education Minister Jordan Brown criticized the P.E.I. French Language School Board for not making its funding priorities more clear.

After seeing the capital budget, Gallant again challenged the minister.

"The minister is finding reasons to be able to explain why he is saying no," Gallant said.

"This was part of our project proposal for Evangeline that it should be assessed in this fiscal year coming up in regards to costing for a renovation or a new construction. Both projects would have close to similar costs."

The French Language School Board says it clearly established that Evangeline school was a priority. (Province of P.E.I.)

Brown fired back at the school board.

"You can't keep everybody happy all of the time and we have to realize that I'm here to look out for all Prince Edward Islanders and to do what's reasonable," Brown said.

"I think that's the most important thing right now is to move past the political machinations of the French Language School Board and to ensure that we really represent the students and we're doing our best for them."

The capital budget did include $3.6 million for sports facilities at École-sur-Mer in Summerside.

Jordan Brown says the government also set aside $500,000 for a comprehensive review of school infrastructure. (P.E.I. Legislature)

Infrastructure review

The government also set aside $500,000 for a comprehensive review of school infrastructure.

"We need to, in this province, understand that we don't build new schools or new school infrastructure because it's somebody's turn to get it," said Brown.

"As infrastructure ages, it needs some refreshing. Does it need to be torn down and a totally new building built? Not many people would look at their home that way and I don't know why we would look at schools that way either."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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