Fire-damaged Mont-Bleu high school in Gatineau won’t reopen in 2021

Sources say pandemic and reorganizing school board are factors

École secondaire Mont-Bleu in Gatineau, Que., nearly two years after it was damaged in the storm that brought six tornadoes to the capital region in September 2018.

Renovations at École secondaire Mont-Bleu in Gatineau, Que., won’t be completed in time for the 2021-2022 school year as planned and millions more dollars will be needed to complete the project, Radio-Canada has learned.

Students attending the high school have been learning at the federal government’s Asticou Centre since December 2018, three months after their school was damaged by fire during a major storm.

Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed that school authorities and the federal government have extended the lease at Asticou Centre until December 31, 2021.

However, neither the students, parents, members of the governing board or school employees have been informed of the delay.

The Portages-de-l’Outaouais school service centre (CSSPO) declined to comment “since the file is under study.” Quebec’s Ministry of Education says the target date for it to reopen remains the fall of 2021.

According to education sources, the CSSPO is awaiting the approval of the provincial government before initiating a call for tenders for the second stage of the project.

The project would require several million more dollars, in part due to delays and the rising costs of construction materials.

Sources say the delay is being caused by numerous studies conducted by the provincial government, the reorganization of the CSSPO and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bigger and more expensive project

The Quebec Ministry of Education said in a statement that earlier this year it was informed that the estimated costs of the repair project would be much higher than expected.

The ministry said that amount will be revealed shortly when a call for bids for the second stage of the project is issued. No date was specified.

According to the ministry, the CSSPO presented plans and specifications for the building to the government in the spring of 2020 and discussions continued during the summer.

“As for the reopening of the school, Fall 2021 remains the target date,” said the ministry’s press relations manager, Bryan St-Louis.

A fire broke out at the École secondaire Mont-Bleu on Sept. 21, 2018, causing the board to close the school. (Kim Vallière/Radio-Canada)

In July 2019 Quebec’s minister responsible for the Outaouais, Mathieu Lacombe, had announced funding of $35 million to “cover all the work and even more.”

The government said then the expected completion date was January 2020. But in the fall of 2019, that date was pushed back to March 2020. 

The president of the Outaouais Teaching Union (SEO), Suzanne Tremblay, is not surprised by the latest delay.

She wondered in a French interview with Radio-Canada whether those students that had just started high school when they were forced out of the building will ever return there.

Students walk past lockers installed in the Asticou Centre in Gatineau, Que., on Dec. 2, 2018. (Radio-Canada)

A building left vacant

The school building on boulevard de la Cité-des-Jeunes in Mont-Bleu has been vacant for months, without much apparent construction work. 

To date, millions of dollars have been spent by Quebec, the CSSPO and the federal government.

A $4.2 million contract was awarded in the fall of 2019 to carry out the first stage of the work, focusing on interior decontamination and demolition. The work was completed earlier this year.

However, the project has stalled since. No tenders were issued for the replacement and repair of the roof, work that’s difficult to do during the winter.

A security guard outside École secondaire Mont-Bleu in Gatineau, Que., in August 2020. (Antoine Trépanier/Radio-Canada)

The interior of the building also still needs work.

According to three former school commissioners — dismissed last February by a transformation of French school boards into school service centres — the project was to take 24 months to complete.

Due to a lack of space, the CSSPO had to set up part-time attendance at this school for some secondary students.

In a meeting of the governing board of the secondary school on Aug. 24, members agreed to formally invite the director general of the CSSPO to explain to parents the state of the situation at its annual general meeting on Sept. 9.

“We have to put pressure on the ministry. The school service centre must question … the ministry to ensure that work begins here so that we find ourselves as quickly as possible in a school adapted to the needs of students and teachers,” said Tremblay.