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School division facing funding dilemma to carry out renovations at high school

Posted on 3 March 2022 by Matthew Liebenberg

The Chinook School Division is facing a dilemma when it comes to funding significant renovations at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School.

The matter was discussed by the Chinook Board of Education during a regular board meeting, Feb. 14. Trustees approved a motion to submit a capital funding application to the Ministry of Education.

The Chinook School Division receives Preventative Maintenance and Repair (PMR) funding from the provincial government, but it is meant for the upkeep of facilities and is not sufficient to cover the cost of larger maintenance projects.

Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore noted this is a dilemma also faced by other school divisions in the province with regard to projects at comprehensive high schools.

“They fall into a bit of a separate category of funding where they don’t always qualify for the major capital funding approval, but they really fall beyond what our PMR will cover,” she said. “And so, as we try to keep up to speed with some of the Comp requirements, then essentially some of our other schools fall short. We’ve done some advocacy and hopefully there’s been some ears listening to our suggestion that maybe those composite high schools in the province need some special attention so that we can get the necessary upgrades done in them, but not lose the track with another school.”

Chief Financial Officer Sharie Sloman said the Chinook School Division spent close to 80 per cent of PRM funding in the last two years on required upgrades at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School. The cost of upgrading the entire mechanical system at this school will use up the entire annual PRM budget allocation for the next 10 years if no alternative funding option is available.

“So what happens with our other 28 schools that we still need to do the mechanical upgrades, the roof upgrades, all those types of things that happen, because they age right along as well with the Comp,” she asked.

The school division receives an annual PRM funding allocation of around $2.3 million from the Ministry of Education. This year the replacement of the boiler at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School will use between 70 and 80 per cent of this funding. It is also necessary to upgrade the entire mechanical system at the school at a total estimated cost of over $20 million.

“Our PMR is not really big enough and the capital funding is for bigger projects like a new school or major renovation,” she explained. “It doesn’t really fit in either category. So how do we go about getting those projects done, and right now we’re at $20 million, but with inflation and everything else and the timeline in order to get it done, it’s just going to keep creeping up. So the sooner we can get it done, the better, plus we want to keep the building viable.”

Sloman emphasized during an interview with the Prairie Post after the meeting that the school division appreciates the PMR funding and it has been a real benefit to assist with maintenance of facilities.

“It is for that preventative maintenance so that you could get out ahead of things before they became an emergent or school shutdown,” she said. “So each year you could keep ahead of any of those kind of issues and we’ve been really grateful. We’ve been able to do lots of things within the schools with that money and so we’ve been really grateful to the Ministry for that funding. It’s just that when we get to these types of projects that are a little bit bigger, we need that little in-between funding to try and make it work.”

The school division is following the advice of PMR staff in the Ministry of Education to include the larger funding request of over $20 million for the high school project in Chinook’s three-year plan for PMR projects. At the same time, the school division is submitting this capital funding application to the Ministry of Education.

“We have recorded it in the last two or three years that this is a project that needs to be done,” she said. “We keep submitting it through the capital and we’re hoping by hitting the Ministry at both sides, they’ll figure out that it doesn’t fit in either category, and so maybe we need some in-between grant to make that work.”

The school division wants to avoid a situation where it has to consider other less desirable options to deal with the dilemma of funding the upgrading of the mechanical system at the high school.

“We don’t have that much reserves, but we might have to look at using some of those, or worse case scenario we keep limping along and it becomes an emergent problem and has to be dealt with in maybe some emergent funding,” she said. “We do not like to go to that stage. … We would rather do the preventative and get ahead of it versus it becoming an emergent and needing it done like yesterday.”

Chinook Board of Education meets with MLAs:

The Chinook Board of Education had a meeting with several MLAs to discuss education matters. A meeting took place with area MLAs Doug Steele and Lyle Stewart on Jan. 28. There was also a meeting with MLA Carla Beck, the education critic for the official opposition in the Saskatchewan Legislature, on Feb. 14.

Chinook Board of Education Chair Kimberly Pridmore referred to these meetings during the regular board meeting, Feb. 14. She expressed appreciation for the opportunity to have these discussions with elected representatives. She noted the board had really productive conversations about the school division’s successes as well as the challenges it faces.

Ken Duncalfe also felt it was useful for trustees to have this interaction with elected officials about educational matters.

“I’m glad they were able to make it,” he said. “I think it’s an important part of our job to have those conversations with those public officials and I’m really happy with the way it went. I’m glad we had that opportunity. I wish it actually happens more often.”

Pridmore added that the intent is to hopefully continue these interactions with the MLAs on a somewhat regular basis.

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