The Quebec government will fund the construction of a new elementary school in Waswanipi.

The office of Premier Jean Charest announced August 9 that the government will spend $8.4 million for a school that can accommodate 260 students. It will have 16 classes, five specialized rooms, a gymnasium and a library.

Abraham Jolly of the Cree School Board said the premier’s announcement was met with great joy among community members who had been vying for the new school for a long time.

“There is a bit of a trend where some of the communities are requesting to have separate schools for the elementary and the secondary levels,” said Jolly. With Waswanipi’s growing population this announcement comes just in time to meet growing demands, Jolly explained.

It also comes amid a flurry of other education-related spending announcements by Quebec’s Liberal government in the run-up to an anticipated general election.

Along with the announcement for the elementary school, Charest noted it has granted a subsidy of $4,450,000 to the Cree School Board to build 21 residences, including two semi-detached units and a triplex in Mistissini ($1.1 million), a triplex in Oujé-Bougoumou ($420,000), two semidetached units and a triplex in Chisasibi ($1.9 million) and two semidetached units in Waswanipi ($680,000). The total amount also covers acquisition of furniture and equipment for these dwellings.

“Again, that is all within the Cree School Board and these housing units are for teachers and for administrative staff,” said Jolly.

According to a statement from the premier’s office, the elementary school project will help make up for a shortfall of 104 student places. “This project will free up space at Willie J. Happyjack School, which currently dispenses elementary and secondary education. The space could be used for adult education, as well as for Cree culture classes and alternative education.”

Jolly said that the space has not been earmarked yet for one specific function. “That is what we are looking at now but we have to do a little planning to determine how we are going to use the vacant space in that school,” he said.

With other recent additions, Waswanipi is a rapidly developing town. “I think Waswanipi has been faced with the construction of the vocational training centre being completed in 2005 and now with this other project like this, it will have an economic impact,” said Jolly.

The Sabtuan Regional Vocational Centre can accommodate up to 100 students. Because the institution’s housing is designed to accommodate not only single students but also married couples and small families, Waswanipi’s need for a new elementary school is even greater.

Said Jolly: “I think Waswanipi is set to jump to the forefront of education services. This will play a big factor in the community.”

Though there is no date set for the completion of the elementary school, plans are well underway, says Jolly. He expects construction to begin in the spring of 2007.

“The young people who attend elementary school today are the builders of tomorrow’s society,” Charest said in the statement released by his office. “We must provide them with educational services that foster development of their full potential. Furthermore, schools are institutions that contribute significantly to the vitality of the community where they are located.”