The Department of Education, Culture and Employment is taking a hard look at how best to utilize space at Yellowknife schools, as some buildings are reaching capacity while others have room to spare.

J.H. Sissons is at 101 per cent utilization, based on enrolment and capacity figures from Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1). The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has hired a contractor to study enrolment at all Yellowknife schools and is determining whether space is being used for what it was designed for. NNSL file photo

The department has hired a contractor to examine current and projected enrolment at both the Catholic and public districts and how space is being used, according to Olin Lovely, assistant deputy minister at the department.

We need to go back and make sure that all the things are being utilized as they were designed to be utilized,” he said. “Where they aren’t, then we’ll make those adjustments.”

Over the years, some spaces that were intended to be classrooms have been used for other purposes such as storage or staff rooms, Lovely explained.

 YK1 almost full

Yk1 says the district as a whole is using 85 per cent of its space.

At Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1), J.H. Sissons School is over capacity, with 334 students enrolled and a capacity for 330, according to figures Yk1 presented at its Oct. 10 board meeting.

That puts the school’s space utilization at 101 per cent.

The education department is still working to approve school boards’ final enrolment and capacity numbers by the end of November and will then use them to look at utilization, said Lovely.

Meanwhile, William McDonald Middle School is at 55 per cent utilization, according to Yk1’s figures.

The school has a capacity for 440 students, but 243 are currently enrolled for the 2017-18 school year.

That excludes the 88 students from Ecole Allain St-Cyr who currently use space at William McDonald while their own building is being renovated, according to Yk1.

The public district puts William McDonald’s utilization at 75 per cent when students from Ecole Allain St-Cyr are taken into account.

N.J. Macpherson School’s utilization rate is 85 per cent, or 97 per cent if Montessori students who use classrooms there are counted. If the school’s three portables are considered, N.J.’s utilization, excluding Montessori, is 82 per cent, according to Yk1.

Mildred Hall School is at 74 per cent, Range Lake North is at 82 per cent and Sir John Franklin High School is at 86 per cent.

Yk1 board chair John Stephenson said J.H. Sissons’ high utilization rate has no detrimental impact on students but does mean more financial resources, as funding is based on enrolment.

If there was a need, the district could move students to William McDonald School, said Stephenson.

My hope is for a new school,” he said, adding Sissons is one of the oldest in the territory and has been in consideration for renovations for some time.

According to department spokesperson Jacqueline McKinnon, the school has not undergone major renovations since its construction in 1975.

It is a candidate for a major exterior and interior retrofit and code upgrades or a demolition and replacement as a result of its age and condition and not because of utilization,” she stated in an email.

Another planning study is currently underway to determine whether to renovate or construct a new school at J.H. Sissons. Results are expected in January, said Lovely.

Both the Catholic and public school boards have attributed growing student numbers to the implementation of junior kindergarten this year.

 Catholic school district bursting

The Catholic district puts its current, overall utilization at 91 per cent.

St. Joseph School was at 96 per cent utilization as of Sept. 25, but that number has since reached 98 per cent, according to preliminary figures the district provided on Oct. 18.

That’s an eight per cent increase since 2016, according to Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

There are currently 569 students enrolled at St. Joe’s, which has a capacity for 583 students.

Weledeh Catholic School’s utilization rate has increased by two per cent from 2016 to 2017.

It currently sits at 77 per cent, with 383 students enrolled and a capacity for 495, according to the Catholic district.

St. Patrick High School is also nearing capacity. However, its numbers are slightly down from last year.

There are currently 498 students enrolled out of a capacity for 517, putting the school’s utilization rate at 96 per cent, according to the district.

Last year, St. Pat’s utilization was 97 per cent.

Based on (Department of Education, Culture and Employment) numbers, classrooms are assigned a capacity of 22 students and non-classrooms such as a music room are assigned a capacity of 11,” according to a document provided by the Catholic district.Claudia Parker, superintendent at Yellowknife Catholic Schools, also said these numbers don’t have any impact on students or programming at the district’s three schools.

However, the district has been coming up with “stop-gap” measures over the years to deal with increasing utilization and does have some concerns, said board chair Miles Welsh.

We’re actually quite excited that we’re going to be able to work with the department of education and come up with a potentially long-term solution,” said Welsh. “To me, this is a big step forward.”

Earlier this year, the Catholic school board approved a five-year capital plan that included purchasing portables for the next school year if space were to get too tight.

We want to wait and see what comes out of the review that’s being done by the department … and see what recommendations they come forward with,” said Parker.

Lovely said the utilization study does not include the French school board as French language rights holders have the right to go to francophone schools. Any non-rights holder from St. Joe’s, for example, would be ineligible to go to a francophone school in Yellowknife.

Lovely said the addition being constructed at Ecole Allain St-Cyr will take care of much of the growth at the French school over the next few years.

We’re working with both education authorities (Yk1 and YCS) to make sure that … the space is being utilized,” he said. “Overall space in Yellowknife is fine, but there’s pockets of overutilization and underutilization throughout the Yellowknife school system.”

The contractor’s findings are expected around the end of December.




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