Partnership pushes school expansion forward

Premier Christy Clark announces feasibility study to co-pay for Chief Matthews Elementary project with federal government.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark spends some time with the children at Chief Matthews Elementary in Old Massett

Chief Matthews Elementary is one step closer to receiving much needed classroom expansions and a new gymnasium, thanks to a rare partnership between village council and the provincial government.

Surrounded by an audience of students, teachers and community members, Premier Christy Clark made the announcement at the school’s library Nov. 26, committing the province to $150,000 for a feasibility study to see how the project might move forward before the province deepens it commitment to the $4-million budget.

Asked why the province has decided to involve itself in the on-reserve project, typically the domain of Ottawa, the Premier said it was purely within the interest of the students.

“The kids are getting shortchanged compared to the kids everywhere else,” she said.

Chief Mathews students must share a community gymnasium that they have access to only 40 per cent of the time, which Ms. Clark said diminishes health and fitness programs at the school, as well compromises the function of a school as a gathering place for larger social, cultural and community events.

“We knew if we got involved it would make it a lot easier for Ken [Chief Rea of the Old Massett Village Council] to make a case to the federal government to move this project up the list for funding, which of course it has,” she said.

According to Mr. Rea, the school was 28th on a national list for school expansion projects, but with the provincial partnership it has moved to the top of that list.

Ms. Clark said the government will keep a close eye on the project to consider whether it might provide a model for other partnerships with First Nations in the province.

During the feasibility study the province will look at options for a new gymnasium or auditorium, draft preliminary schedules, assess budget requirements and identify potential funding sources.

Once the project moves forward, the province will kick in $2 million for the gym, while Ottawa will cover the other $2 million for classroom expansions.

On several occasions, during the official announcement and then after singing and dancing performances by the children, Ms. Clark gave credit of the partnership to Mr. Rea.

“I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for Chief Rea working so tenaciously, making sure our government knew that you needed this.

“There are such good things going on in this school, but it has really been limited by the lack of money and investment it’s had. I really felt like we had an opportunity—a big opportunity to improve that for these kids.”

The school was first approved for the expansion in 2006 but has seen little to no progress. Mr. Rea says the federal government advised to him to secure a partnership with the province to speed up the process. Mr. Rea acted on that advice and began holding meetings with deputy ministers, ministers and eventually the Premier herself.

“We finally came to the point where we felt this could all work in a very reasonable manner,” he said.

“With this expansion we’ll be able to keep our kids longer. They’re just transitioning from one school to another after Grade 5. But this can work; this announcement is great news.”