Alberta government scraps P3 funding model for new schools

Watch above: Nineteen schools promised by the Alberta PCs could open a year later than expected because the province decided to abandon the P3 model to pay for them. Fletcher Kent explains.

EDMONTON – The Alberta government has put an end to the idea of having 19 new schools built across the province under the P3 funding model – a public-private partnership.

The government says scrapping the P3 model for the schools will save the province $14 million.

“We have always maintained that Alberta would only use P3s where they show value for money and, with this project, a P3 does not make sense,” said Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale.

“The right choice for students, parents and taxpayers in this case is to use the government’s traditional procurement method to deliver these 19 schools.”

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Last October, the province said the opening of the 19 new schools could be delayed due to a lack of interest from private companies.

Alberta Infrastructure had received only one bid to build and maintain the schools at that time.

The schools were originally scheduled to be completed by 2016.

The province is now targeting to have the schools finished by 2017, but “will work with school boards to build them sooner if possible.”

“First of all, they need to take responsibility for their mismanagement of these school projects and then they actually owe them [Albertans] an apology for yet another broken promise,” said NDP MLA Rachel Notley.

“The NDP has been telling this PC government for years that P3s don’t work, they’re not in the best interest of Albertans, they’re simply an expensive way to get capital debt off the books. They cost more and they deliver less,” said Notley.

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“Now this government is finally admitting it, but they’re only admitting it after delaying schools for a really long time.

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“Alberta kids are going to be stuck in overcrowded classrooms and spending more and more time on the bus because this government couldn’t just back away from a bad idea when they first knew it was a bad idea.”

The two Edmonton schools that may be delayed due to the province backing away from the P3 model are Heritage Valley – a new K-6 school with a capacity of 600 – and Terwillegar Heights – a new K-9 school with capacity for 900 students. 

Edmonton Public School Board Chair Sarah Hoffman said the news Wednesday came as a surprise.

“I didn’t know before this morning that we were looking at this,” she said.  “Of course, this isn’t good news today.”

“You never want kids sitting on the bus longer than necessary,” Hoffman added. “I think they were hopeful that it would only be for two years and then their kids would be in a school in their neighbourhood…It looks like we’re looking at possibly three years now and that’s unfortunate.”

Lewis Farms School – in the Edmonton Catholic district – could also be impacted, but the board says it can likely still build the school by the 2016 target date.

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The Calgary Board of Education is “assessing the  impact of this announcement on CBE’s capital projects and student accommodation plans.

“The needs of our students are the CBE’s first priority. Accommodation is a serious issue for the CBE, and it is important that these schools come on stream as soon as possible.” Click here to read the full CBE statement.

Construction of the 19 schools was part of former Alison Redford’s election promise to spend $2.4 billion to build 50 schools and modernize another 70.

The Alberta Federation of Labour is pleased the schools will be built through traditional financing models.

“Rather than funnelling taxpayer money into corporate pockets, the Hancock Government had the courage to abandon the P3 model,” said AFL President Gil McGowan.

“This is encouraging. It’s a good decision for Albertans, and I hope they continue to move away from the P3 model,” he added. “When a private corporation is involved, their motivation is to make profit, and decisions about how the school is built will reflect that. P3s are not just more expensive, they’re worse for Alberta’s kids.”

On Wednesday morning, the Wildrose announced it would invest $2 billion over four years to build at least 100 new schools and modernize several others if the party is elected into government in 2016.

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“The intention today would be to say that not only will we those commitments that have already been pre-announced and pre-budgeted for, but if we get elected in 2016, this will be a good forward plan,” explained Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

The Wildrose also reacted to the cancellation of the P3 funding model

“The last time we checked at the 120 projects promise, not a single one is under construction and that is unacceptable. It’s a betrayal in the trust of Albertans,” said Wildrose Education Critic Bruce McAllister.

The Alberta government says planning and work has already been completed on the 19 schools.


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