By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on May 11, 2022.
Changes could be underfoot within the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education as a proposed plan for the amalgamation of three local schools and relocation of the division’s French-immersion program to a new facility, moves to the province’s Board of Education for approval.
MHCBE’s board of trustees voted in favour (4 to 1) of submitting the three-year capital plan and 10-year planning priorities to the province.
Outlined in the plan is the proposed construction of a new K-9 school in Crescent Heights on the land currently occupied by St. Francis Xavier School. The new facility would potentially house a 400-seat performing arts theatre – something division stakeholders have long been calling for – as well as a K-12 French immersion program.
Not only would the proposed facility house students from St. Francis Xavier, it would also welcome students from St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s Junior High. Students in the existing Ã‰cole St. John Paul II K-6 French immersion program would also move to the new facility, where the program would be expanded to include grades 7-12.
The replacement and consolidation is proposed as a way to meet anticipated needs of families over the next 10 years.
“(The north) side of the city is anticipated to see the most growth in additional K-6 students over the next 10 years,” the proposal reads. “This consolidation will create a new K-9 school facility which will allow MHCBE to combine K-6 programs on the north side, combine K-9 French Immersion programming and enhance Junior High School amenities for students throughout the city.”
“This accounts for a huge transition and a huge change to our district,” trustee Dick Mastel said. “Approving this would concentrate 1,200 students to the northwest. It represents a loss of a couple of neighbourhood schools. I like the idea, not that I want to eliminate neighbourhood schools, but I like the idea of having a new facility there.
“We have been talking for the last couple of years and there are some trustees on this board who have worked pretty hard at trying to come up with a plan which would include a physical-wellness facility and theatre.”
Mastel went on to say the expenditure for such has been estimated at $10 million. Consolidation of St. Francis Xavier, St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s is expected to offset much of that sum.
While trustee Robert Risling stated he still has concerns about the proposal, he was willing to submit it to the province for review.
“My understanding if this proposal is accepted by the minister of education, it would go through a series of studies and consultation, which could change the direction we’re going. So, just to get the ball rolling and to see where this leads, I am supporting the motion.”
Review of the proposal is expected to begin this fall. Following the Board of Education’s review, the plan could be altered and would need to seek additional board approval.