Morinville Town Council slammed the Sturgeon School Division Wednesday after it put the brakes on a long-awaited new public junior high.
“This turned into a fight and it doesn’t need to be that way,” Morinville councillor Rob LaDouceur said.
The school division says the sites chosen by the town are unsuitable: one has no street access and the other wouldn’t be able to be developed until an old arena is torn down.
“It really was impossible at that point for the architect to actually site a 21st-century school designed for 600 students with the eventuality of expansion to 1,000 students,” Superintendent Michelle Dick said.
“If we look at the land behind the arena, it’s very unclear as to when the hockey arena will be demolished,” she explained. At the other site, she said the town won’t allow the school to be built up against the street, but if it’s set farther back, an access road and bus route would have to built – to the tune of about $1 million, Dick said.
The school division says discussions have been in the works for months and the problems with the proposed sites were well known.
“I don’t think there’s any surprise for anyone, to be candid, about the situation that we’re in,” Dick said. Everyone is disappointed in the delay, she says, but money can’t be spent until progress is being made.
Still, the mayor says there is no other site available for the school, which would be the town’s first secular junior high. Morinville got its first secular Elementary school several years ago.
“We own no other land, there is no other publicly-accessible or available land to build a school on,” Lisa Holmes explained.
“We have been working hard on this project for the last two years – we’ve continued to work on it,” the mayor added. “We’re going directly to the minister of education now with our concerns because we feel we can no longer work in a vacuum; we have to start working with the government to get this school built.”
Holmes says Alberta Education and the Sturgeon School division need to step up.
“It’s their responsibility to provide education in my community, not mine.”
However, the province says it doesn’t intervene in these matters and supports the school division’s decision.
The education minister is working to get municipal partners to the table in hopes of coming up with a solution. A spokesperson said the hope is that “formal discussions on this matter will begin next week.”
In the meantime, the school division says it will bring in more portables and bus students to other schools.
“We’re back to square one,” Sarah Hall, the Morinville Public School Council Chair said at a meeting Tuesday night. “We’ve wasted over a year and we don’t want to waste any more time.”
The new $25-million school was expected to open in fall 2017.
With files from Emily Mertz, Phil Heidenreich and Julia Wong, Global News
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published Feb. 9 and was updated Feb. 10 to include Alberta Education and school division superintendent reaction.
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