The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) is hoping to hit the “reset button” in discussions to move a First Nations preschool to a home on 11th Street in the Montgomery neighbourhood.
Chief Mark Arcand spoke to reporters a week after an online post by the Montgomery Park Community Association stated their opposition to the project.
The post on their website stated they opposed the preschool due to impact on the community, noting planned additions to the home would double the size and change the house significantly.
It also suggested up to 40 children would be accommodated in the school, though Arcand said Wednesday only 16 children would be there at a time.
“We need to hit a reset button to really get down to the facts,” the STC chief said.
Arcand said the proposed location along the residential stretch of 11th Street was chosen because Montgomery is a good neighbourhood, and the property has a large backyard for the children to play in.
He described the opposition to the project as disheartening.
“I don’t know why we’d be opposed to a positive situation where we can make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “All we’re trying to do is be part of a community where everyone gets to be safe, have a quality of life and be together.”
Some residents living nearby the property have expressed concerns the preschool could end up opening the door to more commercial projects, with an empty field sitting on the other side of the road.
However, the STC has applied for a discretionary use approval from city council to place the school at the home.
If approved, the home would still be zoned as residential but would be able to be used specifically as a preschool for up to 32 children.
Anything other than going back to a single-family home would have to go through public consultation and be approved by city council in a public hearing.
The public consultation process related to the preschool began with an information meeting on Oct. 11 at Montgomery School, which the community association said was attended by more than 100 residents raising concerns.
Arcand said the staff didn’t anticipate as many tough questions at the meeting.
“Maybe we dropped the ball as the Saskatoon Tribal Council in not providing enough information, and I apologize to the Montgomery residents,” he said.
The STC chief also addressed concerns raised on social media that opposition to the preschool may be racist in origin.
“I really want to leave the racism out of it,” Arcand said. “Today is not about racism, it’s about what’s best for those kids.”
The preschool, which is part of the STC’s HeadStart program, is a federally-funded project to provide young children with education in culture and language while also offering social supports and encouraging parental involvement.
Most neighbours to the property on 11th Street declined to comment when approached by 650 CKOM on Wednesday, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
However, next door neighbour Jeff Richardson provided a written statement.
He expressed concerns over the traffic generated by the pick-up and drop-off of children being bused to the school, which would be “confined in the small front lot space on an already busy street.”
Richardson added, “the peace and quiet we enjoy on our property will be destroyed by having a large group of children next door, which could in turn negatively impact their home’s property value.”
He emphasized the opposition had nothing to do with race.
“My family would be opposed to any business proposal, from any individual or organization, that would bring about the same negative impacts on our lives.”
The next public consultation is planned for Nov. 7 in the library at St. Dominic School, where Arcand will address residents.
He said outside of the meeting, he’ll also make himself available.
“My door is open, I’ll clear my schedule,” he said.