Grade 8 and 9 students in Quesnel will be going to a new junior school in September 2022.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming stood on the Friendship Stage in LeBourdais Park Friday (July 19) during the Billy Barker Days Festival’s Kids’ Day at the Park event and announced that the provincial government is providing up to $52.2 million to replace Quesnel Junior School (QJS) with a brand-new facility at the site of the current Maple Drive Junior Secondary School.
“One of the first things that came across my desk as the minister of education was a pretty scary safety note about Quesnel Junior School,” said Fleming. “I think it said something like ‘Minister Fleming, if we don’t get those kids out of the school and there’s a big snowstorm, we’re in big trouble.’ We had to act quickly, and we had to act with our friends in School District 28 to make some renovations for the short-term at Maple Drive School, and we had to make some plans for the long-term.”
School District 28 (the Quesnel School District) is contributing $150,000 towards the project, which includes the addition of a new neighbourhood learning centre that will provide child care and other local community programming. The neighbourhood learning facility is a common feature in new schools being built in the province, and it has a separate facility that can be accessed before and after school and on weekends, explained Fleming.
“It’s a school within a school, if you will,” he said.
In announcing this new school, Fleming thanked “everyone who made it possible,” including the staff at School District 28 and the capital staff in the Ministry of Education.
“This community deserves it,” he said. “I think this is the first significant major school capital announcement [in Quesnel] since 1997. That’s a long time. It is something that is going to be absolutely fantastic for this community, new, modern classroom space. We will have what’s called a neighbourhood learning centre, which will be open to the community seven days a week, evenings, weekends, and we will have child care spaces that are much-needed in Quesnel as part of the new school that we build on-site at Maple Drive. This is going to be tremendous as to how we teach the new curriculum in British Columbia, to have a modern school in Quesnel.”
Fleming was joined on stage by School District 28 board of education chair Gloria Jackson, secretary‐treasurer Bettina Ketcham, Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson, QJS principal Suzanne Bolin, QJS student Phoenix Knuaf and Lhtako Dené Elder Ellie Peters for the announcement, and many school trustees, city councillors and MLA Coralee Oakes were in attendance.
The new school will be two storeys and will have room for 550 Grade 8 and 9 students. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2020 and is anticipated to be finished in time for students to start at the new school in September 2022.
The current Maple Drive school will be demolished once the new school is open to students, and the funding from the Province will cover the cost of demolishing that school, as well as the cost of demolishing the old Quesnel Junior School on Kinchant Street. The future use of the former QJS site will be determined by the Province in the months ahead “to ensure the community receives the most benefit from the site,” according to a press release from the Ministry of Education.
“We are very pleased to be building a new middle school that better supports 21st-century learning and provides a neighbourhood learning centre that will help to meet more needs in our community,” school board chair Gloria Jackson told the crowd, as she acknowledged the other board of education members. “Quesnel Junior School students have deserved a new school for years. This has been our highest-priority building replacement, and we have been advocating for a new school for 15 years and are thankful this government acted on this need.”
After structural issues were found at QJS in 2017, the Province provided $1.7 million to renovate the then-closed Maple Drive Junior School as a short-term solution.
“The board would like to acknowledge the staff all levels on the relocation of Quesnel Junior School to the Maple Drive site during this temporary accommodation,” said Jackson. “From the support staff who worked to get the site move-in ready to the teachers and the administration team that supported students in relocating to a new space, it was a smooth transition where folks really came together and had our students’ best interests at heart. We are still witnessing this cohesion of staff and students, despite the space being less than adequate.”
Jackson says students will stay at the Maple Drive site for the duration of the project.
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson moved to Quesnel in 1985 to teach at what was then the Quesnel Secondary School, and he recalled the structural issues back then.
“While we have been working on this actively, and many people have had a hand in it, that school has begged a replacement for a very long time,” he said.
Simpson expressed gratitude for Fleming’s leadership on this file.
“I haven’t seen people act as swiftly as on this case,” he said. “When the facilities report was put on the minister’s desk, it was almost an immediate response to get those kids out of that school and into a renovated facility. And then the fear, of course, at that time was a renovated facility would suffice, but all of us worked hard to make sure the minister understood that was not acceptable — and we did not have to do a lot of convincing.”