Alberta committed to building schools despite fiscal challenges: province

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta’s infrastructure minister said the 230 promised school projects will go ahead despite an estimated $7-billion shortfall.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s infrastructure minister announced Monday that despite “very significant fiscal challenges,” the government’s commitment to 230 school projects remains.

Infrastructure minister Manmeet Bhullar was providing an update on the three-phased school build consisting of 230 capital projects, including both new schools and modernizations.

He said despite the estimated $7-billion shortfall, the government’s “commitment to core services has not changed.”

“We have a large number of children entering our school system and we want to make it better for our children,” Bhullar added. “We’re pressing ahead.”

“By extracting better value for the dollars we spend we are protecting priority infrastructure projects and building the schools Albertans need now.”

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READ MORE: Alberta premier announces ‘largest ever’ school construction project 

In October 2014, Premier Jim Prentice announced Phase 3 of the project, committing to build 55 new schools in the province and to modernize 20 more. Two more schools were added later. It was described as the “largest ever” school construction project. Fifteen of the new schools were planned for Edmonton, 12 for Calgary.

The three-phase plan began in 2011:

Phase 1

– announced in 2011

– included 35 schools

– 30 are complete

– one school (affected by flooding) is in planning

– two schools are wrapping up construction (while occupied by students)

– two schools will be completed soon (one within several months, one within the year)

Bhullar said the projects in Phase 2 have seen “very steady progress as well.”

Phase 2

– announced in 2013

– included 50 new schools and 70 modernizations

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– one is open

– 38 schools are under construction (in October, 15 were under construction)

– one school is in planning phase

– 54 schools are in design phase

– 26 schools are out to tender

Phase 3

– announced Oct. 2014

– includes 57 new schools and 20 modernizations

– 17 projects have moved from planning stage to design or tender stage

– $43.2 million in immediate funding to school boards, which the government believes will help accelerate the construction and modernizations

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“Sixty of them will be ready in 2017 and five high schools will be ready in 2018,” explained Bhullar.

He said the Phase 3 schools that were originally starter schools (but will now be full builds) will be open by “late 2016 or early 2017” after a construction time of between 12 and 16 months.

READ MORE: Alberta Education promises more new schools 

Since the Oct. 2014 announcement, one school has been opened.

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The minister said it takes time for schools to be built, but admits he wants to streamline the process.

“The planning and permitting process for building new schools has to be condensed.”

Opposition criticized the province for spending a lot of time announcing school projects but not seeing them through to completion in a timely fashion.

“They stalled for these 50 schools over the last three years, and suddenly they’re running into a lot of problems,” said NDP education critic David Eggen.

Interim Wildrose leader Heather Forsyth called it another broken promise from the PC government.

“We’re going to move forward,” stressed Bhullar. “We really have to get on with the business of governing… We need quality, front-line services.”

“These projects are going ahead.”

The minister said there are 665,000 school-aged children in Alberta; by 2023, that number is estimated to be 829,000.

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