K-6 school with $3M repair bill, low enrolment to close in Alberta village of Andrew

·3 min read
Elk Island Public Schools will be closing Andrew School at the end of the school year, due to low enrolment and the building needing a new roof and sprinkler system. (Liam Harrap/CBC - image credit)
Elk Island Public Schools will be closing Andrew School at the end of the school year, due to low enrolment and the building needing a new roof and sprinkler system. (Liam Harrap/CBC - image credit)

Elk Island Public Schools trustees voted to close Andrew School, effective June 30, at a special board meeting on Thursday.

The K-6 school is the only one in the village of fewer than 400 people, 115 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

In his presentation to the board, superintendent Mark Liguori said keeping the school open would require having classes with three or more grades.

Andrew School has space for 385 students, but only 62 students registered for this school year and the projected enrolment for next year was 44.

The school currently has the highest cost per student in the school division — $16,682, compared to the division average of $7,141.

As the student population has dwindled, the school has received less funding from Alberta Education and that trend was set to continue next year, requiring a staffing cut, Liguori said.

A faulty sprinkler system and roof add to the division's problems with the facility. Built in 1957, the building needs more than $3 million in repairs.

Trustees said the decision to close the school was a difficult one, but they want to provide all students in the division students with a high-quality education.

"Our priority, as others have said, has to be the education of each student — the best education option," said Ralph Sorochan, the trustee for Fort Saskatchewan.

Liam Harrap/CBC
Liam Harrap/CBC

The board decided Mundare School will be the designated option for students living within the village of Andrew.

Those outside the village but inside the Andrew attendance area will follow junior and senior attendance boundaries for schools in Lamont and Vegreville.

School choice fees, which parents pay if their children attend non-designated schools, will be waived for students who were registered to attend Andrew School next year. This means there won't be an extra cost for families who want their younger children to join older ones at schools other than Mundare.

Parent says she's 'beyond upset'

Kylie Rude, secretary of the parent council, has a daughter in kindergarten and hoped her two younger children would also attend Andrew School.

She said news of the potential closure was devastating for her five-year-old daughter and a source of anxiety for the family.

"I did somewhat expect the decision but I am beyond upset, beyond angry," she told CBC News after the board meeting.

She said the building should have been maintained over the years so as not to require extensive repairs.

Rude doesn't yet know where her children will attend school next year but said creating a charter school in the village might be the best option for her kids and others in the community.

Future of property

Andrew School is attached to a building that includes the village offices, a public library and bowling alley.

EIPS owns the land the buildings are on, with the village renting space from the division.

The division could sell the property or transfer it to the municipality with the approval of Alberta's education minister.

If no one wants the facility, EIPS would pay two-thirds of the demolition cost and the village would pay for the remainder. Administration expects demolition to cost more than $400,000.

Liam Harrap/CBC
Liam Harrap/CBC

"We have a lot of people that are concerned how this will affect their taxes or will it be an additional levy?" asked Mayor Merwin Haight during the meeting.

Tammy Ann Pickett, deputy mayor, asked the trustees to keep items like donated books, fitness equipment and furniture in the community.

"Please don't throw any more salt in our wounds and pull our library and pull our playground," she said.

Liguori said the board must follow provincial rules for property disposition and it would be nearly impossible to demolish only part of the building.