MONTREAL -- Quebec is going ahead with a plan to upgrade Montreal schools—renovating and expanding old ones, and building new ones—at a cost of more than $800 million.

Eight schools will be built, and eight more expanded, all of it meant to help accommodate a growing population in many neighbourhoods.

At Ecole St. Albert in Rosemont, for example, the plans will bring 10 new classrooms, a gym and a library.

Like many, the school has long been overcrowded.

It’ll be “more space for the children, for the teachers—with more windows,” said Chantal Rouleau, the province’s minister responsible for Montreal.

The city’s French-language school board says it could use about a hundred new classrooms.

However, it’s not easy building new schools. The money may be available, but getting land means tough negotiations.

“We have to negotiate with the city, with private investors,” said Robert Gendron of the French board.

“We have to find places where we could do that. When there are projects that are being built by contractors,” he says, the board tries to work with them to set aside space for a school within the project. 

Now, the board also wants buildings better suited to a pandemic. This summer it added hundreds of hand-washing stations to its existing buildings.

“In the new schools that are planned right now and the one that we announced today, we already adjusted the amount of places to wash [students’] hands,” Gendron said.

The government has set an ambitious goal for the next phase, hoping to have all 16 projects finished within three years.