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Cornerstone board to apply for school projects in Estevan and Carlyle to be included in budget

Cornerstone notes these are long-range projects.
Estevan Comprehensive School
Estevan Comprehensive School

WEYBURN – The South East Cornerstone Public School Division will once again apply for two major capital projects to be included in the 2023 provincial budget. 

One is a significant upgrade for the Estevan Comprehensive School to accommodate more classes for Grade 7 and 8 students from Estevan’s public schools, and an associated major new Estevan pre-kindergarten-Grade 6 joint use school with Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division.

The concept has been discussed for several years. Meetings were held in 2019 and 2020 to discuss the future of school facilities in Estevan. 

The other major project being applied for is a new pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 school facility in Carlyle.

Two minor projects seeking approval will be a ventilation upgrade at ECS and upgrades to McNaughton High School’s home economics area and library in Moosomin.

At the Feb. 15 meeting of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division, the board members noted the two major projects being applied for will most likely bear a long-range target date, but need to be filed in order to get on the Ministry of Education’s priority lists while the minor projects are expected to carry a much shorter, more urgent target date.         

The motions will be forwarded to the provincial ministry in early March.

The decisions were made after a comprehensive and educational report was delivered by Andy Dobson, manager of facilities and transportation for the division. 

It dealt with information that was especially helpful to the three newest board members, Megan Schick of Weyburn, Devona Putland, Subdivision 1 (Rocanville, Wapella and Moosomin) and Michelle DeBruyne, Subdivision 6 (Ogema, Pangman, Yellow Grass, Radville, Gladmar and Oungre).

Dobson said this dual portfolio came his way six years earlier and included a total staffing level of 321 employees, along with two separate but equally important administration and management structures.

The need for more school bus drivers was a prevailing theme throughout the presentation, but not the only vital topic for the discussion that included wide ranging areas of supervision and management that goes into those departments.

Caretaking operations and safety concerns for 36 schools, division offices in Weyburn and Estevan, plus five bus service garages and six teacherages, are also under the purview of Dobson’s management team.

Along with 134 regular bus route buses and 40 spare buses, there are now increases to accommodate in the bus route schedule with the departure of 22 contracted service routes. This is leading to the purchase and then expansion of a bus service garage in Moosomin later this spring and summer. The division also has 49 fleet vehicles to manage.

Property procurement and disposal, other than buses and vehicles, also comes under the direction of Dobson and his team. They manage lease agreements with teacherages, childcare centres and the Southeast College.

Dobson added that petroleum and natural gas leases are also handled by this sector. Mineral rights were also retained on properties formerly owned by the division. These small parcels of a few acres each carry three-year leases with lease fees and a collection of oil royalties on sites no longer used for schools.

Project management such as roofing issues, facility demolitions, upgrades and insurance claims, as well as snow removal, grounds maintenance, fencing and ventilation systems, are all included in the facilities portfolio.

Dobson pointed to some recent successful conclusions to projects, such as the new transportation shop expansion and upgrades in Moosomin, the construction of the Early Learning Centre in the Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS) and fairly successful attempts to hire more drivers.

Haig School and Souris School in Weyburn have been demolished and an aged section of the school in Pangman will be torn down during Easter break.

A pilot project that included safety measures was a success, said Dobson who added that school bus safety was a big component of the event that included a presentation from Tim Hosaluk of the Saskatchewan Association for Safe Workplaces in Health. This has led to safety packages being included in each school bus this year. Dobson noted that surveillance cameras have been installed in all new buses entering the service since 2019.

Plans are also in place to incorporate GPS systems in all buses this year and into 2024. 

In response to questioning, Dobson stated it will be a challenge to maintain a strict schedule for bus retirements after 300,000 kilometres and/or 10 years of service due to recent bus price increases. He said that new 71-seat buses that used to cost approximately $95,000 are now carrying price tags of $165,000.

There are also supply chain issues for bus parts and tires in their servicing centres.

He said equipment or materials that used to be delivered within two days to two weeks, now come in around six weeks to six months time, so plans have changed to include more inventory in storage.

Board members made note of the fact that it will be a challenge to continue to try to order 10 new school buses each year to keep the fleet updated. It was said that older buses are being used for in-city routes in Weyburn and Estevan with the newer buses assigned to rural routes. Dobson said, however, that in some instances, several buses with lots of mileage are performing well since they have been well-maintained over the years and that many spare buses do just fine when placed in service.

Dobson said he expects about eight staff people to retire within the next two years, and aging staffers often require more time off to accommodate medical issues. Aging caretaking equipment such as floor scrubbers will need to be replaced.

The past year saw a decrease in insurance claims with the only major one being a $60,000 claim to replace four furnaces in the McNaughton School in Moosomin following a water pipeline break.

Major renovations are planned for ECS, Lampman School, McNaughton School and the Moosomin Transportation shop expansion in the current year.