Edmonton public high schools will be overcrowded by 2021: report

A file photo of St. Joseph High School in Edmonton on May 27, 2016. Global News

In less than five years, the overcrowding issue currently plaguing some of Edmonton’s elementary and junior highs will spread to the city’s high schools, according to a new Edmonton Public Schools report.

It’s expected there will be more students than space by the 2021/22 school year.

READ MORE: Overcrowded elementary schools prompt worries about Edmonton high school enrolment

The school board says the only real solution to deal with the oncoming wave of high schoolers is to build new schools. That ball needs to get rolling this year in order for the buildings to be built in time, as high schools takes a lot longer to construct because they’re more expensive and complicated.

Already some high schools have had to put limits in place. Last year both Harry Ainlay High School and Lillian Osborne School — both located in southwest Edmonton — closed their doors to Grade 10 students living outside the school boundaries due to enrolment pressures.

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READ MORE: 2 Edmonton high schools close doors to Grade 10 students outside boundaries due to capacity

If the enrollment projections hold true, Edmonton public high schools will need space for 6,000 more students by 2025. By then, it’s estimated there will be 28,261 students in Grade 10 to 12, compared to 19,546 now.

The highest demand for new spaces is on the south side, where affordable, family friendly neighbourhoods have grown rapidly in both the southwest and southeast.

The board’s priority is to add space for an additional 6,600 students. To do that, it wants to build two $68-million high schools with space for 2,400 high schoolers: one in the southeast and one in the southwest. A EPSB map indicates both of the high schools would be south of Ellerslie road, near the Walker and Heritage Valley areas.

The district also wants to build a 1,800-student Grade 7 to 12 school (with a smaller junior high program) in the Glenridding Heights neighbourhood in the southwest Windermere area. No cost has been determined for that proposal.

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In the future, the school board is aiming to have a 2,400-student high school in the Riverview area currently under development in the far west end, and a high school with space for 1,800 students in the new southeast Silverberry area.

READ MORE: Battle brewing over Edmonton land designated for schools

For the current school year, it’s estimated Edmonton’s public high schools are 89 per cent full, up from 81 per cent last year. (Although the percentage varies from school to school.) The number is calculated using a provincial methodology called the Instructional Area Model (IAM).

The EPSB report says assuming current enrolment trends hold and there is no drastic demographic change in the city, enrolment will stabilize when it reaches approximately 30,000 high school students, and the district will need at least 8,000 additional spaces to accommodate them.

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The board’s High School Framework identifies two main priorities: to respond to current and future enrollment in highly utilitized high schools, and to re-purpose space to improve efficient use of existing infrastructure in response to underutilized space.

To meet those goals, the framework proposes three things:

  • Move programming around to balance student distribution.
  • Re-purpose and increase infrastructure capacity to accommodate growth.
  • Create new learning spaces through new construction or school expansions.

READ MORE: 2 Edmonton schools scheduled to open in September won’t be ready

The money to build new schools or modernize existing ones and permission to do so must come from the province. In the 2016-17 provincial budget, $500 million for school construction across Alberta between 2017 and 2020 was promised, but funds have not been doled out yet.

The report was discussed at Tuesday’s Edmonton Public Schools board meeting. Video of the meeting can be viewed below.

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