May 2, 2013 3:10 pm

Alberta government announces seven new schools for capital region

Premier Alison Redford announces new schools in the Capital Region. May 2, 2013

Brad Gowan, Global News

EDMONTON – Three new schools for Edmonton will relieve some pressure in Edmonton’s fast-growing suburbs, but school board officials said they had higher expectations after the province announced nine new schools for Calgary.

A total of seven new schools will be built in the Edmonton area, including three inside Edmonton and two in St. Albert, as Premier Alison Redford fulfils an election promise to find places for new students.

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Spruce Grove and Leduc will also get new schools, while Fultonvale school in Strathcona County will undergo major renovation.

The Edmonton-area work will add 4,950 new student spaces across the region. Calgary will get 7,550 new spaces.

In Edmonton, two of the new schools will be public and one Catholic.

“I was surprised to hear we’re only getting three in Edmonton,” Edmonton Public School Board Chairwoman Sarah Hoffman said after Redford’s announcement Thursday morning at George P. Nicholson school in the Twin Brooks neighbourhood.

“I’m sure Calgary has need as well, but I know that we need schools desperately in Edmonton. These two are a good start. We’re definitely happy to receive the two that we have, but this will not meet our needs for the next two years, five years, ten years moving forward. Our needs continue to grow.”

Edmonton Public Schools will get a new kindergarten to Grade 9 school for about 900 students in Terwillegar Heights, and an elementary school for 600 students in Heritage Valley. All will be ready in 2016.

Edmonton Catholic Schools will get one K-9 school for about 900 students in the Lewis Farms neighbourhood in west Edmonton. The Catholic school board chair, Becky Kallal, said the district is in “dire need” of that school plus two more schools, one in southwest Edmonton and especially one in southeast Edmonton.

“We’re going to have to try to deal with the enrolment pressures as best we can until then, and we look forward, of course, to the opening of that school,” Kallal said.

“We’re happy, of course, that we got that school. We’re concerned with not getting our other priorities met … I really was expecting that our top two schools would be announced. I’m very disappointed.”

Edmonton’s two public schools are welcome news for parents from Esther Starkman School, at 2717 Terwillegar Way in Terwillegar Towne, and Johnny Bright School, at 1331 Rutherford Rd. in the Rutherford neighbourhood. Both schools are so full the school district decided Grades 8 and 9 students will not be able to attend there starting in September.

Parents hope those junior high kids will be able to return once the new schools are built, said Mike Lanteigne, president of the Esther Starkman school council. He called it “an awesome day” for southwest Edmonton.

“We’d like to have our Grade 8s and Grade 9s back. That’s what our schools were built for. We are K-9 in terms of our infrastructure. You look at the home economics room, the shops — we’re built to have a junior high in our schools.”

Redford told a crowd of school officials, parents and students that the province is delivering on its commitment to build 50 new schools and modernize 70 more. Provincial politicians have been travelling around the province this week announcing new and replacement schools.

“My government has announced 30 new or upgraded schools in 19 Alberta communities this week, amounting to almost 5,000 new spaces for students in the Edmonton and the capital region and more than 18,000 student spaces provincewide. We will fulfil our commitment to keep class sizes low and to focus our limited resources on classrooms to give Alberta kids the best start possible in life,” Redford said.

“I’m tremendously proud of the work we’ve done to provide new and upgraded schools. We are building Alberta.”

Redford said it’s not fair to compare Calgary’s nine schools to the three inside Edmonton. Edmonton’s capital region is actually getting seven new schools and one modernized school. There are nine schools in the Calgary region, she said.

The community of Davisburg, near Okotoks, will also get a school.

Alberta Education works with school boards to put new schools where they’re needed, she said. “What we’ve done … is identify communities that have absolutely no education infrastructure and we’ve moved in to invest in those areas. This is part of an ongoing process and, quite frankly, I’m not going to stand up here and compare one number versus another number.”

More new projects will be announced during the government’s term, Redford said.

The government recognizes it must invest in services and infrastructure to keep the province growing and support Alberta families, Redford said. That’s in contrast to the opposition’s “build-nothing approach,” she said.

“When the opposition talks about debt, they’re referring to the infrastructure and the services that families and communities need today. They’re selling Alberta’s future short and they’re doing it to score cheap political points,” Redford said. “The truth is, either we want a world-class education system, or we don’t. Either we want our children in modern, safe comfortable environments with small class sizes, or we don’t. Either we care enough about Alberta’s kids and our standard of living that allows us to fund these projects, or we don’t. And we care. We realize that Alberta’s future success depends on the choices that we make today, and we will never apologize for investing in kids and family and in a better, stronger province.”

Those comments sparked a rapid response from the Wildrose party that accused Redford of using a taxpayer-funded event in front of schoolchildren to attack her political opponents. Redford made similar comments in Calgary on Wednesday.

The Wildrose debt-free capital plan actually calls for 100 new schools and 60 modernizations, the opposition said in a news release.

When questioned about whether Redford’s comments were appropriate during the school announcement, she replied: “I make no apologies for reminding people of what we offered last year in the provincial election. It’s the reason that we were elected as the government.”

St. Albert northeast in the Greater North Central francophone Education Region will get a Grade 7 to 12 school for 300 students.

St. Albert Erin Ridge will get a new kindergarten to Grade 6 school to accommodate 600 students.

Leduc West in the Black Gold Regional Division, will get a new kindergarten to Grade 9 school to accommodate 450 to 700 students.

Spruce Grove Prescott in the Parkland School Division will get a new kindergarten to Grade 9 school for 900 students.

The province is spending $503 million over three years to support new school projects in high-growth communities. The schools will be built through a combination of public-private partnerships and traditional methods.

© The Edmonton Journal, 2013

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