School site sparks traffic fears

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Francophone school could cause traffic jams

St. Albert’s two new schools will both be built in Erin Ridge, and that has city councillors worried about potential traffic jams along Erin Ridge Drive.

City manager Patrick Draper said at a special council meeting Monday that the city would ask the province to build two new schools at two sites in Erin Ridge.

The province announced in May it would build a francophone and a public school in St. Albert by 2016.

The francophone school would have up to 450 Grade 7-to-12 students and draw students from throughout the region. The public one would have up to 600 K-to-6 students from St. Albert.

Recently, the province sent an e-mail to city administration asking it to have sites for these schools selected in time for a planning meeting on June 11.

While the city has five open school sites, Draper said, just three are “shovel-ready” for a school, as required by the province – a three-acre site near Eldorado and Erin Ridge Drive, a six-acre site by Coal Mine Road 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 at Eldorado and the public one at Coal Mine Rd.

Nicole Johnson was one of several Erin Ridge residents who called councillors to criticize the choice.

“I just think that site is way too small for a high school,” said Johnson, who lives next to the site. Local streets are already clogged with parked cars due to the Sturgeon Community Hospital, she said, adding a high school would make it worse. “You add in student parking, staff parking, and busing considerations, and that would be a true gong show.”

She was also concerned that the school would eliminate two popular soccer fields in the area. “St. Albert soccer will be devastated.”

Coun. Roger Lemieux echoed these concerns Monday. “I’m really concerned about the Eldorado site,” he said. “I drove by there and there was a major soccer tournament there, and you couldn’t get through.”

Draper said he met several Erin Ridge families Saturday to discuss their concerns.

While council has the power to create school sites through area structure plans, Draper explained, it’s the site allocation 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.

The public board wanted the Coal Mine Rd. site for its elementary school due to its size and location, Draper said – it’s an undeveloped area, and you want elementary schools in places where you expect new, young families to show up. As for the francophone board, it felt the Eldorado site was more accessible than the Oakmont one.

“Anybody driving by (there) can see there is a lot of parking on Erin Ridge Drive,” Draper said, and administration will likely ask for a traffic impact assessment before the school is built.

Still, he continued, most of the school’s students would be bused in, which could limit traffic problems. (The school, Ă©cole Alexandre-TachĂ©, currently has 142 students, about 92 per cent of whom take the bus.)

As for a loss of green space, Draper said there would still be about seven acres of open land left at Eldorado and Erin Ridge Dr. after the school was built. The city was also seeding new soccer fields that will reduce demands for playing space there by 2016.

Mayor Nolan Crouse said the Eldorado site would have been his last choice for a high school, but none of the others were viable.

“I don’t like the alternatives we have in front of us,” he said, but council has no say in this matter. The city would have to redraw area structure plans or rewrite the School Site Allocation agreement to change the sites selected, neither of which could be done before June 11.

“The wonderful thing is we’ll end up with two new schools,” he said.

Council accepted Draper’s report as information.

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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.