Education Minister Donna Harpauer acknowledged Tuesday that, even though it was higher on the government’s priority list, capital work including asbestos removal at Pleasant Hill School in Saskatoon was put off in favour of expanding Martensville High School.
“In this case, there was a minor – reorganization of the top numbers on the list,” Harpauer said after Question Period at the Legislative Building. “It was expressed to me that the (public) school board was surprised because our government had not ever done that. We had always followed the list as we had prioritized it, whereas in the past – they used to juggle the list quite considerably.”
Asbestos removal and electrical and mechanical upgrades at Pleasant Hill were ranked as the No. 2 health and safety priority on the government’s capital project list released last summer. Addition to, and renovation, of Martensville High School was No. 1 on the critical space shortage list. The Pleasant Hill work was passed over with capital funds instead going to the Martensville project, and to “air quality, crawl space and site remediation” at Leader Composite School, which was the No. 3 health and safety priority.
NDP education Trent Wotherspoon, after raising the issue in Question Period, said that the priority list of capital projects “is intended to be fair, transparent and objective and to serve community needs.
“The explanation is certainly inadequate and it’s unfair to communities that are working hard towards improvements to their schools,” he said. “You either have a process or you don’t and having a fair, objective process is incredibly important. It’s a fair way to work with communities and intervention into that process is inappropriate.
“We’re disappointed by the intervention. We’re disappointed by the fact that two other schools have jumped the queue ahead of Pleasant Hill. Quite simply, health and safety schools with risks and needs have always been prioritized first ahead of critical space. In this case, the minister and the government haven’t followed that process and two schools have jumped ahead of Pleasant Hill.”
But Harpauer said that, “we need to do a better job in prioritizing of our list to give more weight now to critical space – we are growing and we’re hearing from these school divisions that this is causing extreme capacity issues.”
The criteria will be revamped prior to a new list being issued this summer – that list will be weighted differently, and the Pleasant Hill project might be No. 1, but there might be a situation that takes precedent, Harpauer said, noting it is “interesting that the Opposition wants us to address growth pressures in operating but not growth pressures in space.”
“We have a critical issue in Martensville, the (fastest) growing city in all of Canada,” Harpauer said. “They are at 137 per cent capacity. They’ve made a request – for new schools. We don’t have the capital dollars to make that decision this year, but what we can do to take some pressure off is to expand the existing high school.
“The enrolment at the Pleasant Hill School is declining and the health issues – well, they both become health issues, quite frankly, when you have overcrowding,” she continued. “It became safety and health issues in both situations – There’s asbestos in a lot of our buildings. The danger comes, my understanding is, when you open it up and we just simply won’t be doing that this year.”