Francophone school opens

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A new school opened in St. Albert on Monday as the local francophone board welcomed students to a long-awaited temporary facility.

After trying for years to establish a temporary school in St. Albert, including a failed attempt to locate next to Servus Credit Union Place, the jurisdiction successfully leased and renovated the basement of the Youville nursing home to create école Alexandre-Taché.

The school will house about 80 students in grades 7 to 10 for the remainder of the school year. More high school grades will be added in subsequent years as the first group of students advances.

“This is kind of a culmination of a dream for me,” said trustee Martin Blanchet, who represents the St. Albert-Legal region on the board.

“We’ve achieved what we’ve wanted for a very long time. A lot of the credit goes to the parents,” Blanchet said.

Students at the school will have access to the gymnasium and option classes at nearby St. Albert Catholic High School while SACHS students will have access to French language classes at Alexandre-Taché.

After months of renovations, the space is a bright collection of classrooms, an administrative area, small library and common room. The board put about $800,000 of its own money into renovating the basement of the nursing home’s old west wing.

“We will be applying for government help,” said superintendent Henri Lemire. “We know that government has said to us and to everyone else that they don’t have any money for capital projects. We’re counting on maybe the near future rather than the immediate future.”

The Greater North Central Francophone Education Authority operates schools throughout northern Alberta. For years the district has been trying to establish a temporary school in St. Albert to offer high school classes to students in north Edmonton, St. Albert, Morinville and Legal. The jurisdiction’s only area high school is in Edmonton’s Bonnie Doon area.

The idea is to establish a viable temporary school and then seek government funding for a permanent school. This is the same blueprint the district followed in establishing Ă©cole La Mission in Heritage Lakes.

That school began in 1995 as temporary space at the St. Albert Protestant Schools’ office. The permanent school opened in 2003 after a three-year struggle to find a location and battle with neighbourhood opposition.

“We’re kind of giving ourselves a five-year span,” said Viel, the principal. “We’re hoping that we expand to the point where we have no more space here and that will prove to Premier Stelmach that we need more space.”

The francophone board first started renovating the Youville space early last year. The intent was to have it ready for fall classes. Instead, the students have been learning in temporary space at Ă©cole La Mission.

“When you have your Grade 6 class in the staff room, the music room in the library, it’s time to get your own space,” said principal Claude Viel.

“[Students have] been waiting for this since September so they’re quite anxious to move in and see what it’s all about.”

“It’s definitely something that we need,” agreed St. Albert resident Mike Stevenson, whose daughter is in Grade 7 at Alexandre-TachĂ©. Stevenson looks forward to the day when there’s a permanent francophone high school in St. Albert. His son attends the jurisdiction’s Edmonton high school.

“It’ll be nice once it’s all centralized here,” Stevenson said. “Picking him up will only take five minutes instead of an hour and a half.”

The francophone student population has outgrown the Heritage Lakes school and parent Stephan Bogner is glad to see the new facility. He just doesn’t want it to become permanent.

“It’s an okay solution. I’m not saying it’s perfect,” he said.

“I think everybody would have liked for the province to have stepped in and built a more permanent facility but it’s not an ideal world right now.”

“I hope they’re not going to have it in there for the next 20 years, although that could happen.”

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