You know it's an election year when
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 06:00 am
Incredible. That’s the word that best describes St. Albert city council’s performance Monday night. A packed gallery of Erin Ridge residents descended upon council to voice their displeasure over the proposed francophone high school to be built on Eldorado Drive. Some of the residents used the threat of an election year in an attempt to convince council the school should be built elsewhere. And, surprise, surprise, some of the councillors took the bait.
Council appeared to be blindsided by both the protestors and the issue. Here’s the background council has been privy to:
• In May, 2013, the province announced two new schools would be built in St. Albert, a K-to-6 school and a Grade 7-12 francophone school.
• On June 10, 2013, council held a special meeting to discuss the two schools. City manager Patrick Draper explained at that meeting that the city has five open school sites, but just three are shovel-ready for a school, as required by the province – a three-acre site located at Eldorado and Erin Ridge Drive, a six-acre site in Erin Ridge North and a three-acre site in Oakmont. The Oakmont site is allocated to the Catholic board, so the city’s school site selection committee decided to put the francophone school (450 students) at Eldorado and the public one (600 students) at Erin Ridge North.
• Speaking of selection committees, Draper explained at the above meeting that, while council has the power to create school sites through area structure plans, it’s the site selection committee that decides what schools go on those sites. Established by the 2004 School Site Allocation Agreement, this committee consists of the city manager and the Catholic, public and francophone school board superintendents.
• Council also knows that the Kingswood site is a non-starter, and the city knows it can’t force developer, Canterra, to hand the land over. Under the original area structure plan for Kingswood and Pineview approved in 1986, Canterra is supposed to hand over a swath of land along Kingswood Boulevard to the city as a park. But Canterra has refused to do so, claiming the city wanted to use the site for a francophone high school (See Gazette story, June 15, 2013, “Battle lines drawn in Kingswood”).
The mayor and councillors know the above points, but at Monday’s meeting:
• Coun. Cathy Heron asked administration for a list of amendments to the Erin Ridge Area Structure Plan, especially with regard to the school type slated for Eldorado. She also asked if there was enough room in Erin Ridge North to accommodate both schools.
• Mayor Nolan Crouse asked for a legal opinion that could be made public about the potential use of the Kingswood site.
• Coun. Malcolm Parker asked administration if changing the site allocation is a decision for the city or the school board.
• Coun. Wes Brodhead said council has “really only heard from one side of the debate.”
Yes, it is election time, and yes, the upset Erin Ridge contingent applied the “fix it or come election day …” pressure, but it is unfathomable that council didn’t already know the answers to these questions. After all, they’ve had several weeks to seek them out. They know the school sites are not going to be swapped. Why not summon the courage to say so?