Saskatoon Cree bilingual school plagued by old building, over-crowding

Saskatoon Catholic Schools' only Cree bilingual school is asking for help with an aging, crowded school.

Catholic school board asking for $16 million renovation

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools Superintendent Gordon Martel and St. Frances School Principal Darren Fradette say the ageing school is creating problems for students. (David Shield/CBC News)

In a way, St. Frances school is a victim of its own success.

Home to the only Cree bilingual program in the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School system, the school's enrolment has ballooned in the past several years. When the Cree program started, St. Frances School only had around 100 students. Now, that number has quadrupled, to 475 students.

Right now, the aging school is sitting at 140 per cent capacity, impacting everything from cultural programming to gym class.

"When you have half the students in portable classrooms, you don't have the same infrastructure, core infrastructure to support them," said Saskatoon Catholic School Superintendent Gordon Martell. "There's a critical space shortage. Washroom facilities are a problem here."

Parents and students are getting frustrated with the situation. The board and school administration plan to meet with parents at a community consultation later this week.

"A lot of these parents come from other schools, and they know that other schools have more gym time, have better kitchens, they have better community rooms, we don't have a community room here," said Martell. "They know what they're giving up, but they know what they're gaining with this language program here."

While overcrowding is causing problems, the aging school building comes with its own issues. Multiple flights of stairs mean some areas of the school aren't accessible to special-needs students. Meanwhile, the school's multiple portable classrooms have spread out over the playground, eating up soccer fields and large playing areas.

The Catholic school board is asking the provincial government for $16 million dollars for a massive renovation to help solve the issue. Officials at the Ministry of Education have received the request, and will be weighing the merits of the proposal.