Niverville Council Advocates for School-Multiplex Campus

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Years of anxiety about Niverville’s school overcrowding problems are finally being put to rest. Although the province made it clear a month ago that Niverville was a high priority for a new high school, the official announcement came on June 16 when the Honourable Ian Wishart, Manitoba’s Education and Training Minister, issued a request for proposals from architectural firms, with architects to be interviewed by the end of June.

“That process has been completed,” says Randy Dueck, Superintendent of the Hanover School Division (HSD). He notes that MCM Architects Inc. has been selected to handle the project.

MCM Architects Inc. is a Winnipeg-based firm with extensive experience in academic building projects.

With the design team in place and the project being expedited by the province, Dueck expects that a decision about the future school’s location will be made “very shortly.” This is in keeping with previous reports indicating that construction will need to begin by March 2018 in order to be ready for the fall of 2019.

The new school will be built to initially accommodate 450 students from Grades 9 to 12. However, the 66,700-square-foot building will also have the capacity to expand to serve 550 students with the later construction of a four-classroom addition.

The school will include classrooms, science labs, an art room, a large library, computer rooms, resource teaching and guidance areas, a life-skills suite, a multipurpose room, a band room, a drama room, a large gymnasium, fitness facilities, and other specialized spaces. An integrated childcare centre is also part of the plan.

“It is very encouraging for the school community, as well as the wider Niverville community, to see the province take note of their rapidly growing community and the resulting space pressure in their schools,” says Ron Falk, HSD Board Chair.

Dueck echoes this sentiment, adding, “We will do our best to ensure that the end result is an amazing school for Niverville, and that it opens for the fall of 2019.”

Location, Location, Location
The Town of Niverville has some definite ideas as to where the new school should be built. Council has hired Gord Daman, of Daman Consulting, on a pro bono basis to advocate on behalf of the town with senior levels of government. Their goal is to persuade the province to place the new school adjacent to the proposed multiplex.

“Gordon is the best person for the job [and] will give us the best opportunity to secure financing to see this project built,” says Niverville mayor Myron Dyck. “The relationships he already has with the province and the feds helps us in determining possible savings and synergies as we explore the concept of a school and multiplex in a campus setting.”

One of the challenges of securing public funds, Daman says, is bringing the various government departments together to see the shared benefits of integrated infrastructure projects.

“The challenge with most publicly funded projects is that there is a ‘silo’ effect that develops, because departments are understandably focussed on their area of responsibility,” says Daman. “The difficulty with this is that when various departments are not communicating fully, it has the tendency to create unnecessary, if not fatal, delays and often has the impact of higher costs. So my most significant responsibility is to ensure the various stakeholders are staying connected and understanding the larger goals that have been set. Thankfully, the current provincial government understands this and they have reorganized departments that oversee community/public investment through infrastructure programs to ensure there are internal discussions. Understandably, smaller local governments don’t apply for these projects all the time, so they lack this level of sophistication. As such, consultants like myself bridge that gap.” 

Daman then points out that the campus model makes sense on a number of different levels, not the least of which is financial.

“I can’t stress this enough,” says Daman. “The current provincial government is faced with a very real fiscal deficit with many, many good and reasonable requests for additional capital and operational supports. With this being the case, it is very challenging to be successful in securing funding, so [the town’s] application for this funding has to be creative and sustainable, exhibit significant value for money, and include innovation that provides a best practice for other communities. The campus model provides for this.”

Daman notes many significant advantages to bringing the two undertakings together. Number one, co-locating the multiplex and school would reduce the overall footprint of both, bringing down capital costs and introducing numerous environmental and operational savings.

“There can be shared parking, savings on shared drainage requirements, lighting, municipal services like water and sewer, shared greenspace like a shared soccer pitch or diamond, as well as shared landscaping for trees,” Daman says, noting that this is an incomplete list of the potential benefits. For example, the school’s onsite daycare centre could take advantage of the multiplex’s recreation facilities.

Daman also points to a measurable economic impact for the town, as such a facility will retain current citizens and draw more people to the community, both as residents and visitors.

“Public infrastructure has a spinoff effect for private business, particularly the service sector,” says Daman. The facilities also would encourage other businesses to locate here, thus making the town more of a destination. “This benefits everyone in the community either directly, through income and employment, or indirectly, through overall economic growth that helps to sustain property values and spread the property tax load over new homes and business who choose to call Niverville home.”

The town is proposing not only to locate the two facilities adjacent to each other, but to link them in some fashion.

“This allows for each building to be completely independent through secured doors that are lockable to either building. But for combined events like grad, large tournaments, etc., the two buildings can be converted into one large building,” Daman says. “This of course brings huge benefit to the school, but also the community as a whole. The hosting of large tournaments is now possible.”

Time Is a Factor
With the province moving so quickly to get the school built, the town faces a daunting challenge: they have a very small window of time to get the province on board with the various interdepartmental savings and benefits that could result from merging the projects.

“Putting aside the many unconventional things Niverville has accomplished in the past, such as the PCH and Open Health, this undertaking is no easy task due to the time and fiscal limitations involved,” Daman concedes. “So I want to be clear: no matter how well the town presents this material to the province, there is a very high mountain to scale here.”

A group of stakeholders is responsible to allocate provincial dollars, and Daman is well versed through years of experience working with them. For one, project applications are reviewed at the civil service level, to ensure that those applications meet the province’s criteria. From there, the Planning and Priorities Secretariat provides advice to the government about which projects are most worthy of funding. Finally, all recommendations must be reviewed by the Treasury Board, which is made up of cabinet ministers.

“The Treasury Board is charged with making the most difficult of decisions,” Daman says of this final step in the process. “Even if the project has passed the first two steps and is more than worthy of public investment, they have to decide, based on fiscal realities, whether the province can afford it. As you can appreciate these days, they say no a lot more than yes. It’s a very tough role to have.”

Currently, the Town of Niverville is also in consultation with the Hanover School Division. Daman says that school divisions typically make these sorts of decisions, about where to locate a school, alone.

“Even having the town involved is unique, if not unconventional,” Daman concludes. “But I am pleased to share that the town and HSD have a good working partnership in this situation. The decision itself will have to be made very soon, as the design for the school has to start immediately to have the tender package ready for early 2018 so that the construction can begin in early spring of 2018.”

Morris MLA Shannon Martin, who represents Niverville in the Manitoba Legislature, is upbeat about the school announcement and negotiations about where it will go.

“This is obviously an exciting and long overdue announcement, especially in light of the most recent census numbers,” Martin says. “I am optimistic that the community, school division, and province can come to an agreement that will ensure Niverville remains a community ‘where you belong.’”

For more information

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