Council reacts to school site allocation dust-up
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 24, 2013 06:00 am
Moving the school site that’s causing much consternation in Erin Ridge isn’t impossible – but it would be “extremely difficult,” the mayor says.
“This would take three school boards and city council to all pass motions to kill the 2004 (school site allocation) agreement,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse. “To reverse it is going to be extremely difficult.”
Crouse and other members of council weighed in after Monday’s busy meeting, where nine Erin Ridge community members, supported by dozens of their neighbours, spoke out about why they feel the francophone high school that’s slated to be built in Eldorado Park doesn’t belong there. Many of the concerns revolved around traffic and parking concerns.
In 2004 the city and three school boards signed a school site allocation agreement, forming a committee made up of one representative from each, the superintendents and the city manager. That committee decides what goes where on the school sites available when St. Albert is granted a new school by the provincial government. Earlier this year, it was announced St. Albert would be home to two new schools, an elementary and a junior/senior high for local and regional francophone students who have been attending class at the Youville Home.
Only three sites were considered “shovel-ready” when the announcement came – Oakmont, which is reserved for the Catholic school board, Eldorado Park in Erin Ridge, which was earmarked for the public school board, and Erin Ridge North. A swap allowed the public school board to plan their new elementary for Erin Ridge North, where they feel the demographics are more suitable, leaving the Erin Ridge site for the francophone school. There’s been various swaps and site movements suggested as the controversy continues.
“The school boards are telling me right now they have no interest in swapping,” Crouse said.
Coun. Cam MacKay expressed concern four administrators – the superintendents and city manager – got to make a decision about site allocation with no public input. He maintained there are other options still available, like Kingswood for the elementary school and moving the high school to Erin Ridge North. He said the Badger lands proposal makes a lot of sense, since it was considered for a school complex before. “There’s many feasible options out there,” MacKay said.
He said the Municipal Planning Commission should be resurrected to address land use planning issues like the school site one, an issue he said has been known about for a long time but not addressed.
Coun. Cathy Heron noted the complexity of the issue.
“It’s very complicated and there’s a lot of issues that need to be taken into consideration,” Heron said. “I am worried a little bit we could put the school at risk.”
She said the Kingswood site isn’t available and the Badger lands aren’t serviced but added the residents of Erin Ridge have legitimate concerns, especially about traffic.
“We’re struggling to find other options,” Heron said.
“We have been talking about this in the background all summer,” Heron said of council addressing the issue.
Coun. Wes Brodhead agreed there are limited options for school sites on the current timeline.
“Now council’s between the rock and the hard place,” he said, noting he’s not even sure what kind of legal standing any motion from council would have if they did try and change it, given the existence of the school site allocation agreement that assigns the authority to decide what school sites are used for specific projects to the committee.
He also noted the issues around the Kingswood and Badger lands sites.
Now council should address what they can do, he said, and that’s examine the traffic and parking problems in the area.
Coun. Malcolm Parker is hoping the school site allocation committee is willing to meet to discuss the concerns. His motion to that effect, initially made on Aug. 19, was postponed until Aug. 26 to allow other interested parties time to speak.
Parker suggested having both schools on the Erin Ridge North site, perhaps sharing a facility like a gym, should be looked at, though he wasn’t sure if it is a feasible option.
“I just really don’t know what the right amount of land is for schools,” he said.
If the issue had been brought forward earlier in council, it might have allowed more time for comments, Parker said.
Coun. Roger Lemieux was absent from Monday night’s meeting. He said he wanted to review the materials on the subject and would make his views known during the next council meeting.
Calls to Coun. Len Bracko for comment were not returned by deadline.