Facing a space crisis, Rocky View Schools board, parents demand funding for new schools

Norma Lang, board chair of Rocky View Schools, points to George McDougall High School in Airdrie as an example of the district's space crisis. The school is using half of its cafeteria as classrooms. (Submitted by Rocky View Schools - image credit)
Norma Lang, board chair of Rocky View Schools, points to George McDougall High School in Airdrie as an example of the district's space crisis. The school is using half of its cafeteria as classrooms. (Submitted by Rocky View Schools - image credit)

In Crossfield, Alta., Chelsey Devauld's 13-year-old son isn't allowed to bring a backpack into his classes.

It's because there isn't enough room.

"They're running out of space so they're having to use common spaces for learning now, which is taking up important spaces for learning and mentorship and support," said Devauld.

"It's not urgent anymore. It's an ongoing catastrophe."

It's an issue many schools in the Rocky View School Division have been facing for years. At George McDougall High School in Airdrie, half of the cafeteria is being used as a classroom. At other schools, classes are being taught in hallways and other common areas, says Devauld.

Submitted by Chelsey Devauld
Submitted by Chelsey Devauld

What's worse, says Devauld, is that the problem is expected to become more severe in the coming years — and the province isn't helping to alleviate the pressure.

Despite years of advocacy and requests, the Alberta government didn't provide Rocky View Schools (RVS) construction funding in its pre-election budget to build four new schools in the area.

Board chair Norma Lang says RVS is currently sitting at 91 per cent capacity, and according to a video created by RVS about the issue, around 1,000 new students join the schools each year — enough to fill one to two new schools.

"In 2026, we'll be over 100 per cent utilized with more students than spaces," said Lang.

"We are just running out of options and we really need to get moving on putting buildings on the ground in these communities as quickly as possible."

RVS provides education to more than 27,000 students across 53 schools in eight municipalities in Alberta.

Funding last received in 2019

RVS requested approval and funding from Alberta Education to build four priority projects: two schools in Airdrie, one school in Cochrane and another in Chestermere.

Altogether, RVS says it would cost an estimated $165 million.

Lang says the school district last received construction funding from the province in 2019. But in this year's provincial budget, "all four of our projects gratefully have been put into different funding buckets."

RVS was granted design funding for an elementary school in Airdrie and preliminary planning funding for the three other schools it requested.

But for Lang and parents in the district, that isn't enough — especially when communities like Cochrane, Airdrie and Chestermere are experiencing booming population growth, and it takes three to four years to build a school.


Without the funding, the district is forced to consider temporary solutions to manage overcrowding, like modular classrooms in portables. But even then, RVS depends on the government for approval and funding of these portables.

Last year, RVS received zero approvals for new portables.

"It's like we're all observing this car wreck and begging for a Band-Aid and still having to fight and advocate for that Band-Aid," said Devauld.

But Lang remains optimistic, and hopes to hear back from the province in the coming weeks.

"We're very hopeful that Rocky View Schools might get the 32 modular classrooms that we requested for this year," said Lang.

Moving students to manage space

In Cochrane, Steph Gillies has other complaints about the lack of funding for new schools.

It means her son in Grade 1 might have to move to another school in September, even though capacity is at 94 per cent.

"One of their plans for [managing] space at Fireside School is to split the K-4 kids in half, and have half of them go down the hill to a different school," said Gillies.

The school she's referring to was re-acquired by RVS last September from the Calgary Catholic School Division. It has space for 330 students, and RVS is currently getting input from parents before deciding which students will be migrating.

"It would basically be splitting up communities, splitting up friendships, splitting up natural supports."

Submitted by Steph Gillies
Submitted by Steph Gillies

Gillies says it would also affect parents like her, who have no family in the province and depend on the community they created among each other. All of this would be solved, she says, if the province provided RVS with the funding it needs.

She created a petition to keep Cochrane students in their current schools. It has nearly 900 signatures as of Thursday morning.

The school district is slated to make a decision by April 27.

According to an emailed statement from Alberta Education spokesperson Savannah Johannsen, Minister Adriana LaGrange met with the RVS board Thursday morning to "confirm our commitment to move to construction on these much needed projects when ready."

The statement also said in the past, governments have committed full funding for projects that were not actually ready for construction, so Alberta Education will review site and project readiness with RVS.

According ot the statement, since 2019, the province has provided RVS with funding for six projects, which will create approximately 6,625 new spaces.

Further information about portables, under the province's $42.7 million modular classroom program, should be available in the coming weeks, the statement said.