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Closing time for Father Jan?

GSACRD considers close/merge plan
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CLOSING TIME? — St. Albert Catholic school families are debating a proposal to close École Father Jan and move its students to École Marie Poburan. About 50 people were at an open house on the proposal at St. Albert Catholic High School Nov. 23, 2022. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert Catholic school parents were displeased this week with a proposal to close École Father Jan Community School.

About 50 people gathered around tables at St. Albert Catholic High Nov. 23 to brainstorm ideas as part of an open house on proposed capital plans for the Greater St. Albert Catholic (GSACRD) school district.

The district wants to address the low utilization rates and advanced age of many of its school buildings, said GSACRD board chair Joe Becigneul.

The province requires schools to have a utilization rate of 85 per cent to receive full funding for operations and maintenance, he explained. Right now, just one GSACRD school (Neil M. Ross) meets this requirement. A spreadsheet provided by GSACRD suggests the district’s overall utilization rate was 67 per cent.

Becigneul said the district was unlikely to get any new schools approved by the province unless it had high overall utilization rates.

“We need to figure out better ways to utilize the buildings.”

Three proposals

The district polled GSACRD families for ideas last January and had a working group distill those ideas into three proposals presented at last week’s open house, Becigneul said.

The first dealt with Father Jan, which was a 67-year-old building with a 51 per cent utilization rate.

Becigneul said Father Jan was the oldest building in the district’s inventory besides Legal School (aged 70) and would be very expensive to renovate. It was also in a mature neighbourhood, with most of its current students bused in from elsewhere.

The working group proposed to close Father Jan and move its students to École Marie Poburan, Becigneul said. This would centralize the district’s single-track French Immersion program to one site. Poburan would become a K-4 school instead of K-6, while École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY) would become a Grade 5-9 school instead of 7-9.

The other two proposals aimed raise utilization rates at Holy Family Catholic and Albert Lacombe by eliminating space, Becigneul explained. At Holy Catholic, this would mean turning more of its classrooms into office space (one wing of the school now housed the district’s transportation and learning technology departments ). At Albert Lacombe, this would mean some kind of modernization project to either close off rooms or remove portables.

Becigneul said last week’s open house, and its associated online survey, were meant to give families a chance to say which, if any, of these proposals the board should pursue in the years ahead.

Opposed to closure

The Father Jan proposal dominated talks at the Nov. 23 open house, with many parents opposed to its implementation.

Parent Jennifer Perry said everyone at her table had kids at Father Jan, and they were determined to find a way to keep it open. The school’s age gave it an important link to St. Albert history, while its small size had fostered a tight-knit school community.

Perry said she would keep her kids with GSACRD and French Immersion if they had to move to Poburan, but others might leave the program or district.

“We’ll go where we have to go, but we’re not going to go without a fight,” she said.

Parent Erika Kobewka said it was “just heartbreaking” to think that Father Jan could close, as it was the only school her kids had known and they were deeply immersed in its culture.

Parent Helen Jamieson said the Father Jan proposal felt like a rehash of Faith in Our Future, a controversial five-school from 2019 which also aimed to restructure Father Jan, Poburan, and ESSMY. While having one site for single-track French Immersion could strengthen the program, she questioned the logistical impacts having some 700 students all arriving at that site at the same time.

Becigneul emphasized that the board had not decided to implement any of these ideas yet, and might not proceed with any of them. A consultant would recommend a course of action to the board based on public feedback later this winter.

The online survey on the proposals closes Dec. 2. Visit www.gsacrd.ab.ca/administration/capital-engagement for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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