Former Rivier Academy still an option for new francophone school even though property is up for sale

(Herald file photo)

The former Rivier Academy may be listed as for sale, but the French Canadian Society of Prince Albert (SCFPA) is still holding on to hope that the building will eventually be a new francophone school and community centre.

That decision, though, is up to the provincial government.

In mid-June, SCFPA spokesperson Estelle Hjertaas expressed concerns that plans for a new francophone school in the city were at a standstill as the result of a lack of communication from the Ministry of Education.

In a COVID-19 news conference at the time, Education Minister Gordon Wyant said the province is putting together a third-party report to assess whether Rivier “makes sense from a financial perspective.”

“The society sent a letter to the ministry and received a letter back and we’ve had additional communication and updates,” said Hjertaas.

“I think, hopefully, things are improving. At this point now at least we’ve been updated and we understand this is the process and we will get an update at the end of the month.”

The west flat property, up for sale for $8.98 million, was long home to the Blessed Marie Rivier Catholic School. The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary provided education there for decades.

When they handed operations over to the Prince Albert Catholic School Division a few years ago, which then moved students to St. Mary High School, the building was no longer sustainable for the religious community.

Sisters of the Presentation of Mary Provincial Superior Sr. Lise Paquette said they listed it for sale at the beginning of July.

“We waited, and I can’t wait anymore. So it’s still open for the French school…but we opened it wider,” she said.

“We’re not getting any response from the government.”

Paquette said she would be happy if the building continued as an educational facility.

“It’d be great if it were a school, and francophone, because we are of French roots,” she said.

“I just want this building to have a good history that continues for Prince Albert and area because that’s what we’ve been doing—giving education.”

Hjertaas said the SCFPA was aware that the former Rivier Academy would be listed as for sale.

“We knew this some time ago, which is part of the reason we were pressing,” she said.

“We really want this project to go ahead.”

Hjertaas said she hasn’t seen the business plan put forward by the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CEF), the French school board, because it hasn’t been made public. It’s now a matter of if the province sees the plan as viable or not.

She said the three main options for the new school are to stay in École Valois, which the francophone community has outgrown, move to Rivier or to build a whole new facility.

Because of Rivier’s large capacity, half of it would be a school and half would be a community hub should the province approve the project.

“That’s kind of the model that we’d be looking at across the French community to try to keep things together. You have links between the community and the school as well.”

In the June news conference, Wyant said the province intends to comply with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for new French schools in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. The province and the CEF signed the MOU in March of 2019.

The Daily Herald reached out to the Ministry of Education for an update on Rivier’s possibility for a new French school.

“We continue to work collaboratively with the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CEF) to determine the best solution for the Francophone students in Prince Albert,” read an email statement.

“At this point, there is no timeframe on the completion of the report. We are working to have it as soon as possible.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from the Ministry of Education.