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Religious schools keep on growing

Immigration boosting enrolments

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Manitoba's largest private school is launching an ambitious $4.5-million campaign to expand Linden Christian School.

It's not alone -- half a dozen faith-based private schools are expanding or trying to raise the money for major improvements.

Private school educators say the largest schools have stable enrolment, or are growing a little each year thanks to recent immigration, while there's a steady birth-rate decline in public school enrolment.

Trouble is, private schools don't receive a penny of capital funding from the provincial government, no benefactor is stepping forward with seven-figure cheques and expansion is a multimillion-dollar challenge.

"We're over 100 per cent capacity. We're having to be very creative in our timetabling," said Linden Christian principal Rob Charach, whose school is at capacity with 870 kids, three classes in every grade from kindergarten through Grade 12.

The school just west of at Waverley Street on Wilkes Avenue has four portables on the north side, but it wants to build a second full-sized gymnasium there, while adding classroom and band and choir space.

"It's moving north -- we're landlocked east and west," Charach said. "The big feature is a new gymnasium. It would be a full gym, with the capacity to be divided in half.

"We need more classroom space" to meet the current need, with no plans to expand to more classes per grade.

Linden Christian's officials have been to West Kildonan Collegiate to look at that school's open commons area, WKC's version of a town square. "We're trying to do something like that," Charach said.

Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute is continuing an expansion aimed at hitting 600 enrolment in grades six to 12, principal Norbert Bargen said.

"In 2005, we added a middle school addition to our building, and a library and drama facility," he said. "In March or April, we are putting an administration wing on our school and a multipurpose room. Our plan is to take down a portion of our old school on Talbot Avenue."

Rejected by city hall and the community for an expansion of its current site, Westgate Mennonite Collegiate has an extensive plan on its website that envisions relocating within three to five years to a central location on main traffic and bus routes.

Westgate might have had its pick of school buildings had the government not imposed a moratorium on school closures, but the only public school currently on the market is the former Deer Lodge junior high on Ness Avenue, most recently leased for government offices.

"We have looked at that, and it doesn't meet our criteria," said Westgate principal Bob Hummelt. The school is looking for a surplus building with 12 to 14 classrooms and a senior high gym. "The less we have to build, the better," said Hummelt.

Fundraising is the major hurdle for Catholic schools, said Robert Praznik, education director for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg. The archdiocese will not allow parishes to take out long-term bank loans for school capital projects, he said.

"It sometimes takes 20 years. It takes (fundraising through) a lot of perogies and a lot of donations," Praznik said.

Growth in Catholic schools is limited only by building capacity, he said.

"We're up about two per cent this year and last year," Praznik said. "We have a large immigrant population. A lot of our schools have gone to full-day kindergarten."

St. Mary's Academy's expansion is well underway.

Meanwhile, Immaculate Heart of Mary School -- operated on Flora Avenue since 1905 -- has purchased a property at the north end of Salter Street, near the Vince Leah Community Centre and the city's sewage treatment plant, Praznik said. "It used to be a cement works."

On Selkirk Avenue, Holy Ghost School is finishing construction to link two neighbouring but separate buildings, which has forced students and staff to walk outside: "They're connecting the buildings. They're adding a kindergarten room, a classroom, and a computer room," Praznik said.

Who's got plans

to get even bigger

Winnipeg's faith-based private schools are in an expansion mood:

St. Mary's Academy has already launched construction of a multi-phase addition of performing arts, fitness and library space along Academy Road to Stafford Street.

Westgate Mennonite Collegiate is looking at relocating the school in three to five years.

Linden Christian School plans a $4.5-million expansion to include a second full-sized gym and more classrooms.

Mennonite Brethen Collegiate Institute continues its renovations with an administrative wing and multipurpose room replacing aging space on Talbot Avenue.

Immaculate Heart of Mary School has bought property for a new school in West Kildonan near Vince Leah Community Centre.

Holy Ghost School is connecting its two buildings on Selkirk Avenue and adding three rooms.

St. Emile School still hopes to replace the school with a new building.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2010 A6

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