Handful of Iqaluit parents provide feedback on French school’s $15-million expansion
Four parents attend meeting
Nunavut’s only French-language school, École des Trois-Soleils, asked for parents’ feedback on its expansion plans on Wednesday night in Iqaluit.
The $15-million expansion project would involve adding a new gymnasium, four classrooms and additional support spaces, amounting to an additional 1,500 square metres.
It would also allow the school to run a high school curriculum. Right now, Trois-Soleils runs from kindergarten to Grade 8. Students wanting to continue the program in high school do so in a separate course at Inuksuk High School.
Expansion plans for the school have been in the works since 2014.
On Wednesday night, parents were shown five panels with photos that showed what the new spaces might look like, including community spaces. The photos ranged from existing schools in Nunavut to outdoor classroom structures to indoor study spaces.
Four parents attended Wednesday night’s meeting, which started half an hour later than scheduled.
Participants were invited to place blue stickers below the photos they preferred. Participants also wrote their reasons for choosing each photo on sticky notes they stuck below the photos.
The expansion would be funded by the Government of Nunavut and Heritage Canada, while Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services is overseeing the design and construction of the addition.
Heritage Canada has specific funding streams for francophone schools.
Community and Government Services has contracted Ottawa-based Parkin Architects Ltd. and Winnipeg-based Accutech Engineering Inc. to oversee the design and construction of the school’s new spaces.
One parent in attendance said he had only heard about the public consultation that same day.
“I found out about it after I came back from work and someone just messaged me … that there’s going to be a consultation about the expansion of the French school,” said Denis Ndeloh, who has a child in Grade 1 and another in Grade 4 at Trois-Soleils.
“It’s unfortunate that not many parents were engaged…. I don’t know what the official channels of getting the information out were. I know many parents would have been able to come if they received notice in time.”
Although he wasn’t aware of the meeting, Ndeloh said his kids had mentioned the school’s expansion plans in the past.
“It was the first time I’m actually talking to someone who is on the project. I’ve heard from school updates and my kids that there’s going to be a francophone high school, an expansion. But I’ve never actually come in contact [with someone] for the real plan that’s going on,” Ndeloh said.
“Planning for their future, knowing that there’s going to be a high school where they can continue until Grade 12 just provides you that option that OK, I can plan my life. I can live here, I can become part of this community for the long term.”
Ndeloh said he was grateful to have participated in the consultation and hoped the project will move forward.
“I got to see the options and that’s good. I think that I contributed in my own little way by choosing the designs that I would like to see and providing comments as to why having a vibrant francophone community would be good for everyone.”
Barry Cornthwaite, the manager of capital planning for the Department of Education, said notices about the consultation were sent out to parents by the school prior to the meeting.
Cornthwaite said all of Trois-Soleils’ students and staff participated in consultations in November 2019 on what they hoped the expansion would look like.
When asked why the department chose to go ahead with the expansion instead of investing in Inuktitut education at other schools, for example, Cornthwaite said the school’s expansion would open up spaces in Aqsarniit Middle School and Inuksuk High School.
“They’ve been sharing gymnasium space with Aqsarniit Middle School for several years now, as well as sharing space with Inuksuk High School,” he said.
Cornthwaite said he couldn’t comment on curriculum decisions as those fall outside his job’s scope as a capital planner.
“We always recognize there’s older schools in Iqaluit, schools that are crowded in Iqaluit. We have, as a department, put these schools forward for possibility of consideration and for future capital plan. So currently, Nakasuk School here in Iqaluit is on pre-planning with CGS and they have the budget for that. So they’re currently making a business case on what should be developed in the Nakasuk School to expand it.”
“We have put Joamie school forward several times. Because there’s other needs across Nunavut, it doesn’t make the grade to be considered for expansion, but we put it forward the last three years to the legislative assembly.”
Two schools were accepted for expansion: Sakku School in Coral Harbour and Troils-Soleils in Iqaluit.
Planners will now take the feedback they received and bring it back to the community in two to three months.
“They go away for a couple [of] months and they compile all the information. They make a couple [of] schematic drawings of what the community’s input gave and what the school’s input gave on what it should look like,” Cornthwaite said.
“Hopefully in March or April the community will pick one of the schematics and then they’ll go away and they’ll build on that bigger, and when they come back in the fall we’ll start picking school colours and perhaps a name for the high school versus the elementary school.”
The Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut launched a lawsuit against the Government of Nunavut in 2015, which called for the territory to live up to its obligations under Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees minority-language educational rights to French-speaking communities outside Quebec. In November 2018 the dispute was settled, with the government agreeing to the school expansion plans.
The lawsuit had asked the GN’s Department of Education for funding to hire more personnel, including three more teachers, a vice-principal and a full-time secretary.
The school board also demanded “exclusive decision-making power” in hiring and establishing its own curriculum, as spelled out in Nunavut’s Education Act, though it’s unclear if the settlement touched on that.
In Iqaluit, about 4.8 per cent of 8,000 or so residents—so roughly 400—speak French, but this percentage drops to less than two per cent outside the city in the rest of Nunavut.
The Department of Education also briefed Iqaluit city council on the expansion at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
If all goes to plan, the expansion is expected to be complete in 2023, Cornthwaite said.