An expected move-in date to the new French school has been postponed from the start of January to Feb. 16 when the school is expected to be entirely complete, according to the East Central Francophone Education Region (ECFER) superintendent.
Marc Dumont said the division consulted staff, trustees and stakeholders on the move-in date. “It was unanimous - they wanted to wait until everything was complete rather than move in (early) and have construction going on.”
Students at Ecole du Sommet will be let out at noon on Feb. 9, after which teachers will attend their convention, the new facility will get its final touches, boxes will be moved and classrooms will be prepared. Students will come back from what will be a “very long weekend” to start at their new school on Wednesday, Feb. 16, said Dumont.
The next question will be what will happen to the old school facility. “As you know, we the board, we’re renting the basement of the culture centre,” Dumont said, adding that the division will be keeping the old school and plan to locate its central office there. But the loss of ECFER as a renter will be a major blow to the French Cultural Centre and to the local French Association (ACFA) that operates out of the building, he notes. “We kind of want to give them a hand. We know our moving out has a significant impact on them.”
The board, working together with Alberta Infrastructure, is undertaking a Value Management Study on the best use of the French Cultural Centre and the old school. As part of the value management study, the board and ACFA want to consult with the French community and the wider community, as well as the Town and County of St. Paul, on the future of the two facilities. For instance, the division has had some talks with an architect on how the gym of the school might be renovated and expanded to create a 300-seat fine arts theatre for the community, if the interest is still there in having such a facility, Dumont said.
Mayor Glenn Andersen noted that past plans to build a 600-seat fine arts theatre on to the Recreation Centre were scrapped when provincial funding didn’t come through. “The project at that time was quite grandiose,” he said, noting the price tag was estimated at $15 million. If a new plan or possibility for a theatre came up, town council could be receptive to the idea. “We could definitely revisit anything.”
The cultural centre poses more of a problem, since it requires about $1.5 million in renovations, including to its heating system, electrical system and to its roof, to get it up to code. Currently, the building is bi-level and is not wheelchair accessible, which is another setback, said Dumont.
The study will look at “how this building be used, if it can be used at all in this day and age.” If it can be kept, there needs to be some discussion on who user groups or potential renters could be, he said.
Germaine Champagne, president for the Musee Historique de St. Paul Historical Museum, notes the original cultural centre was built in 1930 and following a 1981 fire, it was reconstructed on the same site with the help of volunteers. “This building, to me, is still good,” she said, noting it’s conveniently located in the centre of the town and provides a home for ACFA, of which she is a member. She hopes to see renters move in to the location, and renovations done over time. “It’s a nice place to be. With so much volunteer work in there, we’d sure hate to see it go.”
“At the sentimental level, people want to keep it. But there’s that little voice in everyone’s head saying, can we keep it and how can we keep it?” Dumont said, adding that even though it was difficult to consider, pragmatism might demand the end of the cultural centre. “I suspect most people can see the writing on the wall.”