Lansdowne school grounds could be home to new Francophone school

Demand for Francophone schools taking off

The Greater Victoria School District is considering transferring a seven-acre parcel of the 25-acre Lansdowne Middle School grounds to B.C.’s French school district for a new Francophone school to serve the eastern portion of Victoria. (Google Maps Screenshot)

The Greater Victoria School District is considering transferring a seven-acre parcel of the 25-acre Lansdowne Middle School grounds to B.C.’s French school district for a new Francophone school to serve the eastern portion of Victoria. (Google Maps Screenshot)

The Greater Victoria School District is in negotiations to transfer 7.3 acres of Lansdowne Middle School lands to B.C.’s French school district.

The goal is to use the land to build a new home for the soon-to-be displaced Ecole Beausoleil on Bank Street, said Patrick Gatien, board chair for the province-wide Francophone school district, Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (CSF).

“This represents an important milestone in creating better access to Francophone education for the community of Victoria,” Gatien said.

Transfer of the property is pending public consultation by the Greater Victoria School District. Beausoleil started in the former Sundance Elementary School on Bank Street five years ago. However, in 2019 the Victoria School District told CSF it was moving back into the Sundance building and that the lease for Beausoleil would not be renewed.

The Victoria School District extended the lease but only until June 2021.

“We’re thrilled to hear that a permanent Beausoleil can be built on an actual real piece of land,” said Rebecca Mellett, of the Beausoleil parents association. “It’s such good news and a positive step forward.”

Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin said it was one of the first issues he got involved in following the October election. It was a negotiation that also included the Ministry of Education.

READ MORE: Greater Victoria School District’s new catchment boundaries apply to 2020-21 school year

READ ALSO: School board to consider reopening Bank, Sundance schools

“It was an obvious dispute, Anglophone parents looking forward to having their children go [to Sundance] and the Francophone parents, with nowhere to go, hoping their children can stay,” Rankin said. “I’m very happy with [SD61’s] decision. It’s a dispute we don’t have to have now.”

In the past decade, CSF’s presence in Greater Victoria has tripled from one school to three. Its main school is Ecole Victor Brodeur, a kindergarten to Grade 12 school with 689 students, located on Head Street in Esquimalt. Victor Brodeur also leases the nearby Lampson Street campus (known for its iconic brick facade) from Greater Victoria School District, where its secondary students attend.

In 2015, CSF opened its third school in the region, Ecole Beausoleil (kindergarten to Grade 3) in the Sundance building. That space came available following SD61’s decision to close the school in 2014 due to budgetary constraints.

Beausoleil then grew from a few dozen to 84 students this year.

However, in 2019 the Greater Victoria School District, in its boundary review plan, announced it would need to reopen the old Bank Street and Sundance facilities (the future of the old brick Bank School is still to be determined) to accommodate Victoria’s fast-growing youth population.

Sundance’s first kindergarten class has already started, and is using space in Willows Elementary with the understanding they will return to the Sundance building in September for Grade 1.

READ ALSO: How Victoria’s little Beausoleil is at the heart of a national court case

READ MORE: Sundance elementary closure splits school board

In the meantime, Mellett said a new, permanent school can’t come soon enough. CSF has confirmed Beausoleil will relocate to a temporary location using a series of portables on the Braefoot Elementary School grounds for September.

“We’re losing kids because of Braefoot,” Mellett said. “There’s no room at Victor Brodeur, and we’re seeing parents starting to register their children outside the French school district.”

The CSF is a public school district in B.C. with 6,400 students and 45 schools.

In June 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that Francophone students in B.C. and other provinces are entitled to “have their primary-age children” receive a “truly equivalent educational experience to neighboring majority schools.”

It identified a need for homogeneous primary and elementary Francophone schools with a capacity of 275 in East Victoria (Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay), 98 in North Victoria (the Saaniches) and 299 in the West ​​Victoria (Westshore).

ALSO READ: French immersion programs ‘overcrowded’ in SD62

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