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Space crunch at francophone school

With enrolment expected to rise next year, parents and staff at école Alexandre Taché want a standalone francophone high school to replace a cramped temporary setup housed in the basement of the Youville Home.

With enrolment expected to rise next year, parents and staff at école Alexandre Taché want a standalone francophone high school to replace a cramped temporary setup housed in the basement of the Youville Home.

Lise Roy-Maxwell, whose son attends Grade 8 at Alexandre TachĂ©, is a member of the parent council’s new school subcommittee. She says the biggest concern with the current school is the lack of a gym.

“We’d like to have a gym on site,” she said.

Students at the school utilize gyms at two nearby schools: Ă©cole la Mission or St. Albert Catholic High School.

And while the latter is only a short walk from Alexandre Taché, Roy-Maxwell said students have to be bused to école la Mission in Heritage Lakes and that commute does reduce time spent on activities.

“If we had a space that actually had a gym on site, that wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t be losing that time,” she said.

Alexandre Taché opened in January 2009, after the Greater North Central Francophone Board renovated the basement of Youville Home to make it suitable for students.

The school includes a number of classrooms, a lunchroom, teacher’s lounge and a locker room, in additional to a handful of staff offices.

Roy-Maxwell said other concerns include small classrooms and narrow hallways.

“There is one class in particular where the rows of desks are glued together because there is no possibility of having walking space in between each row of desks,” she said.

The francophone board had spent several years trying to establish a temporary school in St. Albert, servicing high school classes for students in north Edmonton, St. Albert, Morinville and Legal.

While the district operates schools throughout northern Alberta, their only other high school is in Edmonton’s Bonnie Doon area. Currently, Alexandre TachĂ© offers grades 7 to 11 and has plans to add Grade 12 in the fall.

The board formed in 1994 with five schools, which has since expanded to 14. In that time, the district has added only one school in St. Albert, Ă©cole la Mission.

“We are currently leasing schools. It’s something both the public and the Catholic boards don’t have to do but we have to do simply because government is not positively responsive when it comes to providing us with the schools that we need,” said superintendent Henri Lemire.

The board has tried to meet with the minister of education to explain their situation but, so far, has not been successful.

“Ministers of education, the last three or four, refuse to meet with boards so our board unfortunately, like the vast majority of others, we are not able to meet with [him],” he said.

The district is just one of several across the province lobbying for new schools.

The 2011-12 provincial budget, released last month, includes no money for new schools beyond what had been promised in previous years.

The francophone board spent $800,000 from its capital reserves on the renovations to Youville Home, and so far hasn’t received a penny from the province.

“Government is aware of this but still not coming through. We see it as an investment that would normally have been paid for by government,” he said.

Recently, the board spent an additional $200,000 to add one full-size classroom and a science lab for the incoming Grade 12 class.

Students also come to Alexandre Taché from several feeder schools in the area.

“I’ve estimate between 130 and 140 will be our numbers next year,” said Marcel Ouelette, principal at Alexandre TachĂ©.

With a bigger facility, Roy-Maxwell said the school could offer more options for high school students.

“We’re ultimately after an equivalent school to what the English population has.”