Building a new school in Saint John to accommodate the growing number of students enrolling at the Centre scolaire Samuel-de-Champlain is the top priority for the Francophone Sud school district, according to its education council president.
Michel Côté said space is so limited at Samuel-de-Champlain that students have class in the community centre, while washrooms and storage spaces have been converted into offices.
"Right now, the students are everywhere," said Côté, adding the ballooning numbers create stress on the infrastructure, not only in Saint John, but in Moncton, Dieppe, Memramcook, Fredericton and Miramichi, which are all places the district has requested an increase in infrastructure.
"We're probably going to have to bring some trailers in the parking lot, so we can open new classes," said Côté.
In Francophone Sud, there are 37 schools, which stretch from Saint John to Miramichi to the southeast corner of the province. The district has more than 15,500 students and 4,000 permanent and substitute staff.
And Francophone Sud is the only French district in the province with increasing student numbers, according to Côté. From 2015 to 2020, the district saw an 11 per cent increase in students and there are about 2,000 more students now than there were five years ago.
For example, new immigrants make up a large portion of students enrolling at École des Pionniers in Quispamsis, he noted. In 2016, the school added 65 new students, all of whom were Syrian refugees.
While the project to build a new school at Samuel-de-Champlain has been the highest priority for the district for many years, Côté said it sits low on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development priority ranking list for infrastructure projects for 2020 to 2021, which was released last August.
A new anglophone school in the Killarney Lake area of Fredericton for students in kindergarten through Grade 5 is second on the list and was shown to be the most crucial priority in 2020.
A new school on McLaughlin Drive in Moncton is scheduled to open in January 2023, according to Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Elliott, who said the new complex will consist of a K-5 school and a Grade 6-8 school, accommodating a total of 1,305 students.
"We're still pushing and still trying to make sure we get some kind of project or commitment at Samuel-de-Champlain at some point, so we can keep on growing because it's the only French school in the region," Côté said. "If we can't accommodate the students that come here, there's no other option."
According to a 2020 media release, the province uses the Quadruple Bottom Line Multi-Criteria analysis process to "provide an unbiased, data-driven analysis." It's used annually to evaluate major capital school infrastructure projects that have been requested by the school districts, reads the release.
"These projects are over $1 million and include renovations to existing schools as well as new construction projects," reads the release.
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal