Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Wednesday 14 school projects across the province that will receive capital funding this year, including a number of new rural school builds and a new Catholic high school in Edmonton.
LaGrange said the province is committing to new schools in Calgary (Southern Francophone Education Region), Edmonton, Red Deer, Manning, Camrose and Lethbridge.
The province will also proceed with modernizations or replacement schools in Airdrie, Calgary, Coaldale, Evansburg, Fort Vermillion, Milk River, Red Deer and Sherwood Park, she said.
The government has earmarked $268 million for these projects in budget 2021.
The Edmonton Catholic School District said the announcement of funding for a high school for the communities of Castle Downs and Dunluce is welcomed news.
"We are extremely pleased that the government of Alberta has listened to the critical need of our first capital plan priority … nearly 1,400 high school students reside in North Edmonton with no school option in their community," said board chair Sandra Palazzo.
"A new high school will also ease the enrolment pressure at Archbishop O'Leary High School, which is currently at a utilization rate 116 per cent."
'Critical need' for infrastructure in Calgary
Some critics say the province's announcement fails Calgary students after no new public schools or major modernizations within Calgary city limits were announced this year.
The Calgary Catholic School Division will get an addition and modernization of St. Martin de Porres High School, but board chair Mary Martin said while this project is long overdue, the needs of the division aren't being met.
"I can't overstate how critical the need is to address the increasing growth pressures. Our schools now are approaching 90 per cent capacity and in some cases greater than 100 per cent," she said.
Martin said there is growing disparity between Calgary Catholic and the other metros.
"We're falling in terms of infrastructure dollars per student, fourth among our sister boards and by as much as 23 per cent."
NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said despite enrolment growth at both CCSD and the Calgary Board of Education the province did not include any major projects for the district within city limits.
"It's a slap in the face at a time when the city is already hurting," she said. "The UCP's plan for education is to cram kids into overcrowded classrooms. Yet again, they're asking parents, teachers and students to do more with less."
The Calgary Board of Education said while it was not included in Wednesday's announcement, there are five new school construction projects announced in years past that are under development and will allow students to attend class closer to home in the next few years.
Those projects include Mahogany elementary, Skyview Ranch elementary/middle school, Auburn Bay middle school, North Calgary high school and Auburn Bay elementary.
Good news for some areas
The Palliser School Division is celebrating the announcement of a replacement and reconfiguration of Kate Andrews High School.
"This is a project that we have had in the planning stages for many years. We've been working with the town of Coaldale in conjunction with the planned [recreation centre] they are building to be attached to this new school," said Dave Driscoll, superintendent of schools.
Driscoll said the school that will be replaced is a grade 7 to 12 school. Students will remain in that building while the 900-student replacement building is being built.
"The community is growing and our other schools, the middle school and elementary, are feeling the pressure so we will be doing a grade configuration so that we can accommodate the growth … it could be that we put another grade into the school," Driscoll said.
Growing community needs
The Lethbridge School Division said the announcement of a new elementary school in west Lethbridge will help meet the needs of the growing community.
"This has been our number one capital priority for the last four years. We've had growth pressures there for quite a few years … and so we're really pleased they have heard our concerns and are moving ahead," said board chair Christine Light.
She said all of the elementary schools on the west side of Lethbridge are above capacity.
"As a division, we've just approved new boundary changes to help alleviate some of those pressures but we still have a need for an elementary school because even with those boundary changes we would again rise above capacity in the next four years."
The Southern Francophone Education Region will also get a new kindergarten to Grade 12 complex in Calgary and Foundations For the Future Charter Academy will get funding to support the ownership of the Montgomery school building.
"Certainly this Montgomery school [funding] is an attempt to provide a permanent solution for that particular school authority resulting in something that is workable for [the CBE] and Foundations for the Future Charter school," said LaGrange.
"I do realize that Calgary, as does every other school division across the province, in their three-year [education plan] really would like to see more new schools, and we are absolutely committed to continuing to build more schools."
Jeff Wilson, board chair for FFCA said this means the charter is getting a new school.
"What's going to happen is the province, Alberta Infrastructure, is actually managing a replacement high school build. So that has been designed or is in the process of being designed and once it is, a new brand new 1,000 student high school will be built on that land," he said.
"Then once that process is completed and the keys are turned over, those keys will be turned over to FFCA and not CBE, which is the critical piece for us."
There were no new builds or modernizations announced for the CBE, the province's largest school division.
The province said that in total, the 2021 Capital Plan spends $1.6 billion over three years on school infrastructure. In addition to these 14 new school projects, this funding also continues work on more than 62 previously announced school projects across Alberta. Of these, 19 are expected to be complete through 2021-22. The remaining projects are in various stages of planning, design or construction.
CBE capital plan
On Tuesday, CBE administration looked to the future with the presentation of its annual capital plan for the next three years to be considered by the board of trustees.
CBE's superintendent of facilities Dany Breton said if all these requests were met, by 2026 the CBE would have an overall utilization rate of 87 per cent — without them, that number is sure to climb.
"The plan focuses primarily upon modernizations of existing schools and by keeping the number of new schools being requested low and we're able to ensure that focus on existing schools, more than half of which are 50 years or old," he said.
"Accordingly, it's exceedingly important that we turn our attention to these schools so as to ensure that they can continue to be great places to learn for another 50 years."
Administration recommended that in 2022, the school district asks the province to fund the construction of one new middle school in the community of Evanston for 900 students.
It also recommended modernizations for three existing school — John G. Diefenbaker High School, Nickle School and A.E. Cross, prioritized in that order.
The modernization of John G. Diefenbaker High School, which currently operates above 100 per cent capacity, is listed as the board's second priority behind the new build in Evanston.
Breton told trustees that if approved, the modernization could require students to be moved to other schools.
"Options would include the possibility of maybe moving students to adjacent schools that do have available space," he said.
"It could require the temporary adjusting of grade configurations or catchment areas for a brief period of time while part of the high school was being redone or it could also include the use of modular classrooms."
In the second year, it recommends a new middle school in Saddle Ridge for 900 students, a new Cornerstone high school for 1,800 students, and the modernizations of Sir John A. Macdonald School, Annie Gale School, Cedarbrae School and Altadore School.
Rounding out recommendations in the third year is construction of the new middle school in Saddle Ridge, the construction of the high school in Cornerstone, and modernizations of Annie Foote School, Janet Johnstone School, Ranchlands School, Queen Elizabeth School and Ernest Morrow School.
Trustees will vote on March 23 on whether or not to submit the plan to the province.