By Matthew Liebenberg
A decision by the Chinook Board of Education during a special meeting on Jan. 23 ended months of uncertainty about the rebuilding of Stewart Valley School.
Trustees votes 8-2 in favour of a motion that the Chinook Board of Education approves the rebuild of the Stewart Valley School subject to the approval and requirements of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement, and the board directs administration to proceed with the major capital project application.
Several trustees spoke before the vote. Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore said it feels as if the decision has been a long time coming, because the fire at Stewart Valley School was on Aug. 26, 2022.
“So it’s a good feeling for us to be able to make the decision today and we just want to say how much we appreciate the work of all of our staff that have provided information for us and helped to making that decision as informed as possible,” she mentioned. “We appreciate the patience of the Stewart Valley community and everyone that’s been anxiously awaiting the decision from us.”
Rachael Eliason, the elected representative of the area that includes Stewart Valley, expressed support for the motion.
“I’m pleased to support this motion, not just because I think it’s a good thing for the kids and the community of Stewart Valley, but because I think it’s a good thing for Chinook in the realization of tangible assets as opposed to some of the uncertainty of the alternative.”
Katelyn Toney said the school division is fortunate that the insurance is probably going to be enough to cover the rebuild.
“I know how important the school is to the community and I’m very thankful that the community will not only have their school back, but all the wonderful and exciting things that come with a new school,” she mentioned.
Gwen Humphrey expressed concern about the insurance amount and whether it will be sufficient to cover the entire rebuilding cost.
“I don’t want to see our budget being depleted or anything along that line that’s going to take away from what’s going on in the rest of the division,” she said. “The payout that they’re going to be giving us, I’m thinking that it can be disbursed throughout the rest of the division to the benefit of the rest of the schools instead of just one.”
Keri Hudec acknowledged it took some time and it was quite a process to get to this point, but it was due to the need to receive all the necessary information and to complete their due diligence before deciding.
Board Vice Chair Dianne Hahn referred to the results of a survey done by the Chinook School Division among families with children aged 0-5 within the Stewart Valley catchment area. The data provided an indication of student enrolment in the four years after 2024.
“Those first four years the student population number is certainly over our threshold for wanting to look at whether a school should be closed or not, and that gives me comfort,” she said. “It certainly was the biggest comment when people approached me as to why would we rebuild. And that gives me comfort, along with the fact that we’ll be recommending that it be build with modulars.”
Tim Ramage indicated he also supports the use of relocatable modular structures and rebuilding the school will be best for the students.
“We talked to our community and with that we debated around our table what is best for Chinook children, and basically we want the best for them,” he said.
The board decision was taken through a formally recorded vote. The motion was opposed by Gwen Humphrey and Ken Duncalfe.
Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore said after the meeting the trustees certainly felt pressure to try and get information faster. They had to receive details from insurance adjusters and the Ministry of Education, and trustees were at a point where they felt they had all the information required for a decision.
Official enrolment information for Stewart Valley School before the fire recorded 41 students on Sept. 30, 2021. She noted the survey of families provided trustees with useful information about potential enrolment in the four years after 2024. The projected number in the initial year will be 36 students and in the following years it will increase to 38, 40 and then 42 students.
The Chinook Board of Education held a community meeting in Swift Current on Jan. 9 to provide the community with an update about the process and information already gathered.
“We received lots of community feedback, especially following our meeting on the 9th, and of course the overwhelming opinion is that it’s an important move for the community to have a school for that community to thrive,” she said.
She added the board’s decision at the special meeting to approve the rebuild of the Stewart Valley School was really the beginning of the next part of the process. The capital project application will be reviewed by the Ministry of Education and it will involve the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement.
“We do want to stress the fact that it is the Ministry [of Education] that makes the final approval,” she said. “That is important for everyone to understand, but we have reasonable assurance that they would take our recommendation very seriously based on what we’ve been using for information.”
A key detail among the information considered by the board was the insurance coverage and if it will be sufficient to make the rebuilding of the school a realistic option.
“We have been assured by the Ministry that if it is a rebuild in like, size and kind, so meaning typically the same footprint as what existed prior to the fire, that insurance coverage should be a complete coverage,” Pridmore noted.
In addition, the use of modular construction methods will help to make the rebuilding project a practical and realistic choice.
“That’s what we would kind of recommend to the Ministry to consider as part of their review process, just so that if in the event the enrolment did change drastically, we still got a tangible asset to work with as a division and we could potentially move that anywhere in the division to help another community,” she said. So that’s what we will recommend is modulars. Number one, it’s quicker. They would hopefully be in place quicker than a full build and then again, we’ve got that asset always as a division.”
The board had the option of a cash payout as an alternative to rebuilding the school, but they did not have a lot of details on the practicalities of doing that.
“We had some concerns that it wouldn’t necessarily benefit the entire division as much as we might like to see it,” she said. “And so that might mean if it’s to go to towards capital projects, they might be centred in one or two places in the division, not necessarily spread out as much as we’d like to see it.”