Province to put together third-party report examining potential of using Rivier as new French School

Change is coming to the old Rivier Academy building. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The former Rivier Academy site remains a possibility for a new French school in Prince Albert.

The Société canadienne-française de Prince Albert (French-Canadian Society of Prince Albert, or SCFPA) put out a press release Thursday morning addressing concerns that they had not heard from the province about the new francophone school. They were worried it had been shelved once again.

During the COVID-19 update on Thursday Minister of Education and Deputy Premier Gord Wyant addressed these concerns. The province and the CEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding new schools in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

“It’s certainly the government’s intention to comply with the provisions of that memorandum of understanding,” Wyant said.

He explained that the concept of the new school and community centre would require some more work and a business plan.

“We want to do that, just this last week we’ve commissioned a third party to put together an independent business plan to see whether or not locating a school in that particular facility makes sense from a financial perspective.”

Wyant said that the province will comply and meet their obligations in the MOU for new French schools.

The community was pleased to hear that the project will be moving to a next step and that commissioning a third party was the exact news they were waiting for.

“That is what we were looking for was some sort of an acknowledgement and confirmation as to what was going on because ultimately what our community really wants to know is, we put a lot of work into the Ecole Valois moving to the Rivier site,” SCFPA spokesperson Estelle Hjertaas said.

The French community has also been working on a complete business plan for the whole community, Hjertaas said.

The Fransaskois community of Prince Albert and its partners, including seniors groups, École Valois Parents Council and staff, Métis community members and francophone school board representatives, have worked an entire year on a business case pertaining to the purchase of the former Rivier Academy as requested by the Minister of Education.

The two bodies, the SCFPA and the CEF (provincial francophone school board) say they have met every single requirement laid out by the Ministry for this community school project to go ahead.

The business case they made provides a financially sustainable, long term vision for the former school, convent and residence , including maintaining Marion Aquatics, Hjertaas said. The vision is to develop a school and community and cultural hub at the site of the former all-girls Catholic school, which was closed by the Prince Albert Catholic School Division in 2016.

After a plan to turn the building into affordable housing fell through, the SCFPA stepped forward and expressed their interest in the location.

Ministry officials toured the site last year.

Hjertaas explained that whether a yes or no was coming was important because they would have started looking at other options.

Another part of the plan includes a provision so that the Sisters of the Rivier convent can continue to live in the new location.

“There is not that many of them now so that is obviously important to them to have that kind of certainty because they want to get rid of the building,” Hjertaas said.

They are not able to maintain it anymore themselves. It is fair for us and fair for them so that we all know where things are at to continue moving forward on this project or if it is not going to happen,” she said.

“I can speak on behalf of the association that we are very happy to hear that they are at least taking that initial step.”

The community understood that an initial announcement would be made during the provincial budget on March 18, however the COVID-19 pandemic changed that budget to a release of estimates and they still had not received word. The new budget date is when the Legislature reconvenes on Monday, June 15.

Since signing an MOU with the CEF in March 2019, which stipulates three new francophone schools to be built by 2023, including one for Prince Albert, the Ministry of Education has yet to move forward on any of them.

The city’s French community has outgrown École Valois and former community centre. It’s inadequate to meet the expectations and needs of parents, students and other French-speaking citizens, including newcomers, with respect to the educational, sporting, economic and cultural potential of the community, a release stated.

-With files from Jayda Noyes