School site stunner

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Town surprises many with new home for public school

Morinville town council has cut a deal with a local developer that could see the town’s newest public school built in Grandin Heights instead of by the Ray McDonald arena.

Town council passed first reading on three bylaws to change the Grandin Heights area structure plan at its June 14 meeting.

The changes, if approved, will create a new 13-acre school/park site on Grandin Drive in what is currently a large open field north of the CN railway tracks and west of East Boundary Road. This site would become the home of the Sturgeon School Division’s new junior/senior high school, which is currently slated for construction by the Ray McDonald Sports Centre.

Alberta Education suspended planning for that school earlier this year due to the many problems with the sports centre location, which included power poles, a possible $1 million access road no one wanted to pay for, and the uncertain fate of the arena and curling rink. Education Minister David Eggen later stepped in to get the project back on track.

Sturgeon School Division chair Tracy Nowak told parents in a June 1 letter that the design process was paused until the town clarified where the school would be located.

Morinville Public School council chair Sarah Hall said she was shocked by last week’s announcement of a new site, as last parents had heard they were waiting on the province to do a traffic impact study of the Ray McDonald site.

“This came out of left field,” she said, adding that parents had received no hint that this site was under consideration.

How the deal was done

Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes said work on this deal started in February after the town took one last shot at getting developers to add a school site to their area structure plans. TAG Developments (which is building Grandin Heights) agreed, leading to months of talks.

“This literally just got finalized in the last couple of days,” Holmes said, and the town didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up by talking about the deal before it was a sure thing.

The town did keep the province in the loop about the deal and informed Sturgeon Schools a few weeks ago, Holmes said.

John Buchko of EDS Group (the consultant who designed the revised plan for TAG Developments) said the developer decided to partner with the town to create this school site because there was an obvious need for one.

“The development industry understands that it’s in everybody’s best interest to do good gestures (such as) incorporating school sites,” he said.

It also gave his client a chance to realign the plan with market conditions, he continued. Instead of having large, country-residential-style lots (which aren’t currently in demand), the new plan has compact, affordable lots meant for a mix of single and multi-family homes, and includes a potential commercial site to its north. Adding a school site could also make this area more attractive to homebuyers.

The proposed school site is an open, undeveloped field without any of the restrictions that are present on the Ray McDonald site, Holmes said. It’s fully serviced, and was created by assembling all the municipal reserve in the old plan into one block.

It’s exactly the kind of site Sturgeon School Division wanted for this school, said board superintendent MichÈle Dick. It has high visibility, great road access, and room for growth and play fields, and is in a place of new population growth.

And it potentially removes the need for the complex three-party talks that have been required at the Ray McDonald site, Hall said.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better solution.”

Assuming these bylaw amendments are approved, Dick said planning for the new school could resume as early as July, keeping the school on schedule for a September 2018 opening.

Council would likely eliminate the Ray McDonald school site if this new one were approved, Holmes said.

A public hearing on the bylaws is scheduled for June 28.

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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.