Province fronts cash for Morinville public school

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But just to plan it – not build it

Morinville public school students are getting a new school after all thanks to a recent decision by the province – but when it will be built is anyone’s guess.

Sturgeon School Division and a small number of Morinville residents received messages from Alberta Education Minister Gordon Dirks last Friday announcing that the province had approved funding to plan a new public school in Morinville.

The decision came out of a meeting held last month between parents, Sturgeon School Division and Alberta Education, said Sarah Hall, school council chair for Morinville Public School.

That session had been arranged in part by Morinville MLA Maureen Kubinec after Morinville Public parents launched a petition in October calling for a new public school in town. The parents were upset that the province had announced planning cash for a new Catholic school in Morinville while their public one was bursting at the seams.

Officials told parents at the session that that was a mistake on their part and asked them what sort of school they needed, Hall said.

Last Friday, parents at the meeting and school board officials received letters and emails from Dirks saying that they would get planning dollars for a new school in town.

“Planning funding has been approved for a new public school in Morinville,” said Sturgeon School Division executive director Michèle Dick, quoting from the letter the board had received from Dirks.

“I do, however, want to emphasize that funding to move your project beyond the schematic design has not been approved, and there is no guarantee of future funding.”

This is wonderful news, and it means that the board can now start planning a new school in Morinville, Dick said. She hoped the board would be near the top of the list when the province next decided to build new schools.

The board should get about $750,000 to do the planning, said Alberta Education spokesperson Tamara Magnan. The plan will involve modernizing Morinville Public School to a kindergarten to Grade 4 school – it’s currently kindergarten to Grade 7 – with room for 600 students. It will also allow planning for the construction of a new 600-student grades-5-to-9 school that can be expanded to 1,000 to accommodate up to Grade 12.

This is definitely a long overdue step in the right direction, said Morinville Public parent Marjorie Kirsop. But it also means that a new school is at least three years away, given the amount of time you need to build one.

“Kids in the older grades at (Morinville Public) will have to leave town to complete their public education,” she said.

Hall was also concerned that the school’s plans wouldn’t be ready in time to get construction dollars from the upcoming provincial budget – a budget that, given the recent drop in oil prices, will likely have little room for school construction.

“It’s a miracle we got the announcement in the first place.”

Mayor Lisa Holmes said she anticipated that Morinville’s great need for new schools would push the province to fully fund the construction of both this and the previously announced new Catholic school in its next budget, and promised to lobby the province to make sure of it.

“I think that people are going to be really excited to see them built and open in 2017.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.