The decision by Calgary Board of Education (CBE) officials to close the Viscount Bennett Centre and transfer Chinook Learning Services programs into three existing high schools has left mature students out of luck.

The relocation of the programs into various high schools will restrict enrollment to students who are under the age of 20.

According to CBE board members, funding is not available to keep the Viscount Bennett Centre operating and the programs will be transferred to new locations in the fall.

“The reasons now (are) due to the building,” explained Trina Hurdman, chair of the CBE board of trustees. “The building that it is currently accommodated in probably should have been closed years ago. It is in pretty rough shape and it’s just not a safe learning environment anymore for students so this will be the last year that that building will be open.”

“Unfortunately, at this time, we aren’t seeing any other options that would allow us to keep adult education within the Calgary Board of Education. Our mandate under the school act is very clear that we are required to educate students up to the age of 19 and that it is the job of post-secondary institutions to educate mature students over that age.”

Hurdman says there were concerns regarding the introduction of mature students into high schools. “We have had engagements with our communities around that and we’ve heard very clearly that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable with students over the age of 20 being in the same buildings as our younger students.”

Sean McIntosh, who is currently enrolled in classes at Chinook Learning Services, calls the decision to end programs for those who are 20 or older a shame.

“It will affect many people,” said McIntosh. It’s going to affect me because I won’t be able to get my high school diploma which I was planning on doing if I didn’t get into SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology).”

“I just can’t imagine how many students, how many lives are going to be impacted because this place is shutting down and because, for some arbitrary reason, they want to segregate the population to different age ranges. I don’t understand that.”

Lindsay Fortin will be permitted to continue her education at Lord Beaverbrook in the fall as her 20th birthdays falls weeks after the September 1 cutoff but she says will be burdened with an extensive course load that she will need to complete in less than a year.

“There’s nowhere else for us to go because Bow Valley (College) is overcapacity and you have to take entrance exams and you have to pay tuition,” said the 19-year-old student. “My dream has always been to go to post-secondary. I’ve always had academic ambitions and the thought of using that money that I’d saved up for my post-secondary on a high school education just seemed, honestly, stupid. It didn’t make any sense.”

“(Chinook Learning Services) has given me an opportunity and a place and a safe space to learn and to excel.”

The CBE has yet to determine how many staff members will be affected by the transition of the program to high schools and the removal of mature students but the board expects to save $1 million each year in operational costs with the closure of Viscount Bennett.

“We’re facing a $35 million shortfall so any money that we would save through this would be put towards our mandate of K to 12 education,” said Hurdman.

Hurdman commended the students who voiced their concerns to the board on Tuesday and says she does sympathize with the students impacted by the change.

“I’m so grateful that they value education so much and that they found such great value in the service that we were providing and I’m really sorry that we’re not able to provide it going forward.”

With files from CTV’s Jordan Kanygin