A $25-million school in Morinville is on indefinite hold in large part because of the uncertain fate of the town’s hockey arena.
Morinville Public School parents learned last Feb. 1 in a letter from the Sturgeon School Division that all planning and design work for the school’s new building had ground to a halt.
Alberta Education agreed to plan a new school in Morinville for the public board in 2014 in response to protests from local parents.
When the province threatened to more-or-less pull its $750,000 in planning funds unless the town came up with a site for the school by June 26, 2015, council created a site behind the Ray McDonald Sports Centre and the Sturgeon School Division’s main office.
The original plan was for the school to be built at least in part on the land occupied by the Ray McDonald arena and curling rink, said Sturgeon School Division superintendent MichÈle Dick. The problem is that the town isn’t clear on when those buildings will be demolished, and hasn’t said when it will remove the many power poles on the rest of the site. The town is planning a new rec-centre meant to replace both facilities.
Plan B involves putting the school behind the division’s office, she continued. This would require a $1-million access road since the town doesn’t want the school to front onto 107th Street – and no one wants to pay for that road.
Last December the project’s architect said he can’t start drawing plans for this $25-million school until these uncertainties and restrictions are cleared up.
“We are now at a stall,” Dick said.
This situation is a “catastrophe” that will lead to the busing of hundreds of students out of town in a few years, said Morinville Public School council chair Sarah Hall in a letter to parents.
“I cannot begin to understand why any municipality would not bend over backwards to have this $25-million gift-of-infrastructure built.”
The province’s architect has drawn up nine different plans to make this site work, and the town has rejected all of them, Hall wrote.
Morinville Public parent Tannis Beattie said this delay was “very, very frustrating,” as it means the new school won’t be ready for her son when he graduates from junior high.
“Once again we’re having to step up to the plate and fight for what should be a simple right. A child should have a right to high school in his community.”
The proposed school is meant to hold up to 1,000 Grade 5 to 12 students and supplement the severely overcrowded Morinville Public. It was originally set to open in 2017.
Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes said the town would continue to work with the board and the province on this issue.
“Sturgeon School Division and the town are staying at the table. It’s the government of Alberta that’s walked away.”
Holmes said that the town believes the new school can be built on the proposed site even with the arena in place. Once demolished in 2017 or 2018, the cleared land could be used as a parking lot.
“They’re coming back and saying it’s not workable, but there’s no other option.”
Holmes said the new rec-centre lands east of town won’t be serviced in time to host the new school. It’s also unsafe to front the school onto 107th, as that road is too narrow for buses.
Hall said in an interview that the province had been extremely helpful on this project, and blamed town administration for the new school’s delays. Staffers continually throw roadblocks in the school’s way and are too focused on the town’s new rec-centre to care about it, she believes.
“They gave us three acres of their town land (for the school) but they’ll only let us use one acre of it,” she said – the other two are occupied by the arena.
Tucking the school behind district office is unsafe and not conducive to student education, she continued.
“That’s where sheds go. That’s not where a brand-new, $25-million school goes.”
Everyone seems to be blaming everyone else here, Beattie said. She questioned why the town couldn’t come up with a viable site for this school when it had no problems placing the new Catholic school in town.
“I don’t understand why that’s a problem.”