As the school year marches on, Quesnel’s School District 28 is continuing its work to secure a more suitable junior school for the city.
At Wednesday’s (Nov. 7) Board of Education meeting, Board secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham gave a verbal report of the latest updates regarding Quesnel Junior School.
There are three options currently in the running for a junior school in Quesnel.
Option one would see the original North Quesnel QJS site renovated. Option two would see an addition and renovation project of the current Maple Drive QJS building. Option three would be a brand-new school replacement at the Maple Drive location.
The Board of Education was supposed to submit a project definition report (PDR) to the Ministry by Oct. 31, outlining in detail plans for the three potential junior school options; however, the date has passed and the PDR is still underway. Ketcham explained at the meeting, however, that the district submitted a draft report in September this year, describing the many complexities the team was running into while putting together the proposal, particularly in respect to renovating the current Maple Drive school. Representatives from the Ministry visited the site at the end of September and agreed there are more issues to deal with than anticipated.
“The deadline is now going to be driven by when the district and the Ministry mutually agree that the work is done,” said Ketcham.
Ketcham explained that coming up with plans to renovate the Maple Drive school is extremely complex.
“We are trying to take an older facility and renovate it to accommodate a larger student population, but also bring all its mechanical, structural, electrical systems from a 1974 build to today’s standards.
“We are still working on option two to flesh out the various pieces – costing, code work, how do you make that work from an educational standpoint… – [and then we will] write a business case and resubmit it to the Ministry of Education.”
Ketcham said that because the Maple Drive school was left largely vacant for 15 years, there is inherently much work to be done to fully renovate it and complete an addition.
Just a few weeks ago, QJS’ gymnasium had to be closed after vermiculite, which contains asbestos, was discovered in a hole in the gym wall. The area was sealed off until an air test could confirm there was no danger to students.
Following Ketcham’s report, Trustee Julie-Anne Runge pointed out that they want to be careful not to give the Ministry any reason to put Quesnel’s plan off for another year.
“We don’t want to give them any reason to say, ‘You didn’t quite make the deadline for us to get you into our capital project decisions,’” she commented.
Superintendent of schools Sue-Ellen Miller agreed, but said the point has already been raised with the Ministry.
“We were very clear on that. They are suggesting changes, suggesting we flesh things out, and adding things, which is changing the work we are doing. They agree the work has to be done so it’s a fully developed project, and we will not be seen as missing any deadlines.”
The School District is hoping to submit its full proposal to the Ministry of Education by the end of November, according to Ketcham. She said a final decision would be made by the Ministry sometime in spring 2019, and the district is most supportive of option three, to see a brand-new junior school built in Quesnel.
“We are still eager to submit [the PDR] on a timely basis because that allows the Board, the political partners, the community, to get behind the option that the district feels is the best, which is a brand-new build. But we can’t submit our proposal in its totality until all those pieces surrounding options one, two and three are completed.”
Ketcham indicated that option one, to renovate the North Quesnel site, was unlikely to be the winner, due to cost.
“Because of the size of the building and how old it is, it will highly likely be ruled out because it won’t be the low-cost option. That’s the common-sense conclusion,” she said.
Superintendent Miller told the Observer that if a brand-new school is chosen by the Ministry as the best option, the best-case scenario would see students in a new school three years after the spring 2019 announcement.