Skip to content

Local school boards eye new schools in city's north end

Greater St. Albert Catholic wants a new school in the city's north end to reduce strain on existing schools and to accommodate future families moving into Erin Ridge North.

Greater St. Albert Catholic wants a new school in the city's north end to reduce strain on existing schools and to accommodate future families moving into Erin Ridge North.

"We want to make sure that we're going to, in the long term, be in a position where we can have a school situated where population trends are actually growing," said superintendent David Keohane.

"Specific to that case would be the closest school to Eric Ridge, which would be Neil M. Ross."

Keohane made the comments one day after a board presentation by secretary-treasurer Deb Schlag showed several schools in the division have exceeded capacity.

Neil M. Ross is currently 82.3 per cent utilized while J.J. Nearing, located to the west, has an 81.3 per cent utilization rate. According to the board, any school over 80 per cent is considered fully utilized.

However, some of the division's schools are currently under-utilized, according to the report.

Bertha Kennedy School is currently 61.8 per cent utilized, Albert Lacombe School is at 69 per cent, while Vital Grandin School is at 51.5 per cent.

Alberta Infrastructure determines a school's utilization rate by dividing the number of students by the amount of teachable space.

Children in kindergarten are not included in school enrolment and staff lounges are considered teachable space, according to the formula, which is under provincial review.

Portable solutions

Neil M. Ross principal Sandy Cimino said the school was already at capacity when it was built 29 years ago. Twelve portables were added almost immediately.

While the portables look like a permanent part of the school, they don't have washrooms and students and staff must use facilities in the older parts of the school.

"It does put a strain when you have so many children using a couple of washrooms, it does make things difficult," Cimino said.

"That being said, it's a great community and we make the best of it and nobody is feeling like we're overcrowded."

In 2004, the government introduced classroom size guidelines that stipulated kindergarten to Grade 2 classrooms were to have 20 or fewer students while grades 4 to 6 should have 27 or fewer. Before this, Cimino said some classes at Neil M. Ross had 33 students.

"If we had a lot more families moving in because of the construction [in the] north, it would put additional strain for sure on this building and it would be difficult to honour that class size [initiative]," she said.

"Right now we already have a class in the library. We would have to add more portables or do something."

Keohane said the division recognizes the province wants schools to be as utilized as possible before building new facilities.

"They don't typically see the need to be providing spaces where you already have space," he noted.

"It's not helpful for a school division, either, to be making cases for schools and have under-utilized facilities at the same time because that impacts the amount of place operations and maintenance dollars that you'll actually get."

Rather than sinking money into fixing up Neil M. Ross's aging portables, Keohane said he'd like to see that money put toward a new school.

"We do have, we feel, a compelling case in a situation like Neil M. Ross where we have portables now that are quite aged and there would be an opportune case that, in return for writing those portables off, we can get additional space in areas that are growing," Keohane said.

"There are a number of portables that are in that 20-year range that would require some fixing up in the long term. The population still has some room to grow in a facility such as that."

Last fall, the King of Kings Lutheran Church opened a new private school in the city's northeast quadrant that's operated by the Edmonton Lutheran School Society and offers Lutheran schooling.

Protestant board eyes school

The St. Albert Protestant board has also pushed for a new school in Erin Ridge North.

"It's frustrating for us because we've been wanting that school for a long time. We've been splitting kids up," said superintendent Barry Wowk.

According to him, the district has 2,000 more students than the Catholic division. While they do not currently have a school to serve Erin Ridge North, Wowk said students in the city's north end are currently divided between Keenooshayo, Sir Alexander MacKenzie and Muriel Martin schools.

"If we don't get a new school in the next three years, we're probably going to have to still split kids out among a number of schools," Wowk said.

The board has been trying to form a P3 partnership with the province and Landrex, the developers behind Erin Ridge North, to build a school in the city's northeast quadrant.

Under the proposal, Wowk said Landrex would either build a school and lease it to the province or pay for it up front and the province would pay the company back, similar to a mortgage.

Wowk said the agreement currently lies in the hands of Education Minister Dave Hancock.

"The proposal is still there," Wowk said, adding that if it fell through, the board would be placed on the minister's other list of P3 schools.

"[The minister] has assured us that we're on both lists but right now he has no money," he said.

Busing not an option

In the future, busing kids from Erin Ridge North to other schools in the division is not a feasible option, said Wowk.

"We're going to be starting next year by busing elementary kids to Muriel Martin and anyone who knows Muriel Martin knows it's pretty full already," he said.

"Our message to the minister would be if you want us to do that we'll be taking every three blocks to a different school because we don't have enough room in any one of our schools for all those kids."

Wowk said kids in Erin Ridge currently attend Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, where space is limited.

"We don't have enough room there," he said.

The Catholic board also believes busing students to underutilized schools in the district won't work, said chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull.

"Our numbers are not small enough at any school where it would make sense," she said.

"You would almost have to have a school that is on the brink of closure to start considering that," she said.

"The other things that you need to consider is that transportation is a very expensive undertaking so the cost to bus these students to get the transportation to the other school would almost not make sense."

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks