Just about every community in the province would trade places with St. Albert. The city is not getting one, but two new schools. New schools are an indication of a community’s health; as the city’s population grows, so too does the economy and all of the amenities that go along with it.
However, the riches that St. Albert is blessed with are not accepted or appreciated by the residents who inhabit the neighbourhood in which the schools will be built. The francophone junior/senior high school, slated to be built in Eldorado Park, has once again come under fire, not only by the residents who reside in the park’s vicinity, but also by a couple of city councillors who are all too quick to throw city administration under the proverbial bus in order to score cheap political points.
At the heart of the issue this time is the change in size of the school site itself. The footprint was originally 2.99 acres. The draft site plan is now 3.5 acres. Why is it now 3.5 acres? Because the school site is now proposed to be located on the west side of the park, which will allow for reduced traffic impact on the neighbourhood and provide safer, longer on-site bus lanes and drop off area. Safety, for the students, pedestrians and commuters, must be in the forefront of the school’s plans, and the change to 3.5 acres allows for that.
Unfortunately, councillors Cam MacKay and Sheena Hughes drew on the emotion of the Erin Ridge residents who were in attendance during Monday night’s council meeting to publicly call into question the integrity of Carol Bergum, the city’s director of planning and development, and city manager Patrick Draper. MacKay in particular peppered Bergum with questions that challenged her job performance. Viewers of the spectacle were left with the impression that city administration was not only incompetent, but also liars. MacKay’s public dressing down of city staff is not only completely unprofessional, it smacks of opportunism. It’s bush league politics.
The truth of the matter is Bergum is simply doing her job. She followed policy when Alberta Infrastructure did an area structure plan amendment application. The application brings the Eldorado site under a public-private designation, which will allow the school to be built anywhere in Eldorado. As pointed out above, this is necessary in order to situate the school in the best-possible location, to allow for maximum public safety and the most optimum traffic flow. The application still requires a public hearing, but because it is considered a minor amendment, there is no need to go through rigorous public consultation.
The school will be built, and it will be built with the best of intentions. It will not be built in the shadows of some underhanded, mysterious intent, despite the line of questioning from MacKay and Hughes. This is a school. This will be a place where young minds will grow and develop. This will be a place that will serve future generations. Let’s get on with it.