Kawenni:io/Gaweniy:o Private School is hoping the federal government will provide $15 million in funding for a new school building when the new fiscal year arrives in April.
At least, that will be one of its funding sources.
KGPS, which has been providing Mohawk and Cayuga language immersion schooling for kindergarten to grade 12 students on Six Nations in various locations for 40 years, desperately needs a new school.
Students have been learning out of a converted space on the second floor of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena for over a decade now, despite unsafe conditions and decades of advocacy for funding to build its own school.
Ruby Jacobs, president of the KGPS school board, said it’s unconscionable that students have been forced to learn in such conditions since the school’s inception, never having a home to call its own.
“The government of Canada has huge amounts of money that belongs to Six Nations,” she told Six Nations of the Grand River Elected (SNGR) elected council during a general issues meeting last week. “Why should we be begging and scraping about getting funds? This is unconscionable to leave those children in that unsafe environment.”
Kevin Martin, president of First Nations Engineering Services Ltd. (FNESL) in Ohsweken, brought near-final design drawings and financials to the meeting last week, saying the cost to build the school hovers around $17 million, with Six Nations already willing to commit $2 million on its own.
With the high cost of construction materials, however, that estimate could be even higher come April.
The 45,000 square foot school will house classrooms, a gym, a nurse’s area, reception area, counselling areas and even a longhouse space.
Detailed design drawings should be complete by March. The firm is 60 per cent complete with their architectural drawings, with FNESL ready to award tenders in April.
Land has been designated for the building behind Six Nations Polytechnic on Fourth Line Road.
Current designs include only a granular driveway for now, with asphalt to be added later. Site preparation drawings have also been completed, with estimated costs of about $5.6 million – that’s without a contingency fund.
Martin estimates construction could begin in May and the school will be complete before winter if everything goes according to schedule.
“The one thing that may affect the schedule…there’s a shortage of PVC pipe,” said Martin. “We’re experiencing that on many of our projects. They seem to need a four-to-six month window for underground piping. This may have an effect on that.”
About 125 students currently attend the school in its makeshift quarters at the ICA. The new design would allow for more students, and subsequently more language speakers graduating from its programs.
Council heard that a meeting with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in December revealed the federal department had no money left for school construction in its budget for this fiscal year.
Martin said in his discussions with ISC, they would be more likely to provide funding if Six Nations could come up with $2 million of its own toward the project.
“It could lead to a quicker approval, said Martin. Being shovel-ready is also a bonus, he said.
A private donor and community member have been contributing to the existing operational costs of the private school.
Students who have attended KGPS have been shifted around to different buildings for 40 years.
“That is just unconscionable,” said Jacobs. “This is for the whole reserve, by keeping this school, the culture and language. That’s where the knowledge carriers and speakers are coming from. Please help us with that – we want to get a meeting (with government officials).”
Chief Mark Hill agreed and said council will ensure board members are part of the meeting with ISC this month to discuss funding for the building.
“I think we’re all on the same page when we talk about the need for this school. We are continuing to do that political push so we can get the funding for this school.”
Chief Hill said he couldn’t get a straight answer from ISC when he asked if the start of a new fiscal year could mean funding will be available for the school but being shovel ready by then is important.
“When you’re shovel ready and all those pieces, that is when you’re favourable to those funders,” said Chief Hill. “We want this school built as quickly as possible. We’re going to continue doing whatever we can to get it built.”