St. Joseph School was at 96 per cent of its student enrolment capacity as of Monday. There were 561 students enrolled at the school, which has a capacity to take in 583 students, according to YCS assistant superintendent of business Janet Toner. Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

Yellowknife Catholic Schools is once again contemplating how to make more room at St. Joseph School as its capacity to take in new students nears a breaking point.

The building is at about 96 per cent of its student enrolment capacity, according to Janet Toner, assistant superintendent of business at the Catholic board.

As of Sept. 25, there were 561 students enrolled at St. Joe’s, which has a maximum enrolment capacity of 583 students.

The education department is still finalizing enrolment numbers, said superintendent Claudia Parker.

Just last fall, the school was at approximately 90 per cent of its capacity, the school board stated at the time.

Parker said junior kindergarten is the main reason for the space crunch – an issue the school board raised last October as schools across the NWT were preparing to introduce the new play-based program for four-year-olds this fall.

“We’re just in the process of opening up a fourth junior kindergarten class, because our numbers are too high in the three that we have,” she said. “We’ve had to take one of our other classrooms and move them into what we had as a project studio and … we’re turning that over into a classroom so we can make another junior-kindergarten classroom.”

While St. Joe’s is expected to make do this school year, planning is needed for 2018-19, said Parker.

To that end, the school board passed a motion at its Sept. 20 meeting to complete an internal assessment of capacity at the Catholic district’s three schools, which also include St. Patrick High School and Weledeh Catholic School.

Parker and her colleagues are expected to come forward with the results and possible solutions to the capacity issue at the next board meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 18.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, who is responsible for the constituency where St. Joe’s is located, proposed Tuesday in the legislative assembly that the GNWT purchase modular classrooms – also called portables – to solve the issue at St. Joe’s.

Earlier this winter, 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.

“That really is the only solution for St. Joe’s other than taking a look at whether we can move children into one of our other schools,” said Parker.

But the board estimated those portables would cost $1.5 million – money the district would have to scrape out of its own pockets if the Department of Education, Culture and Employment does not provide funding.

When asked how he is addressing the issue, Education minister Alfred Moses said a review of how space is utilized at Yellowknife schools was conducted in May and June.

The department is waiting to see what recommendations come from that review, said Moses.

He added space sharing between schools could be a “viable option,” referencing a sharing deal between the Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest and Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) at Ecole William McDonald School as an example.

Students from Ecole Allain St-Cyr are currently using classrooms at William McDonald School while an addition is built at the french school.

“The minister indicated a number of emergency situations or temporary accommodations due to construction,” said Testart. “There is a big difference between those circumstances and circumstances where policy changes have brought more students into the school than the school can contain.”

Testart pushed Moses for a commitment to fund portables at St. Joe’s, but the minister did not make any promises.

“We just ask that (the Catholic board), Yk1 be patient and continue to work with us to find a solution,” said Moses.

According to previous Yellowknifer coverage, the Catholic school district has been in discussions about capacity issues at St. Joe’s since at least 2014.

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