The joke at the Blackfalds council meeting on Tuesday was that if you live in the town and have a two year old, he or she will have a lot of friends, being that there are now 180 so-aged tykes in the town. But with another year of unprecedented growth in the community, all residents should find it increasingly easy to find someone of a similar vintage around town, no matter one’s age.
Presented to council on Tuesday, the results from the town’s 2013 municipal census reaffirm its status as one of the fastest growing communities in the country. The new population total for Blackfalds: 7,275, an increase of 7.5 per cent over the 2012 count.
“It’s the largest single year increase in population that Blackfalds has ever encountered with 508 people,” said Mayor Melodie Stol.
Over a 10-year period, Blackfalds has now grown by 91 per cent, and the pace of growth is only increasing. Last year saw a record number of 136 building permits filed in the community. However, said Stol, 153 have already been filed in 2013, suggesting next year’s census could show an even larger increase.
“I think Blackfalds has shown that we’re the real deal. We can continue to have strong growth for over 10 years now, and we have nothing but confidence that that growth will continue,” said Stol.
The town has conducted annual municipal censuses for the last three years in an effort to paint an accurate picture for governments, organizations, and businesses of what services the community needs. Stol said the town is trying to keep up with growth by building infrastructure such as the Abbey Centre multiplex slated to open in spring 2014, and other levels of government need to do the same.
Earlier this year the province announced that a new elementary school is on the way for Blackfalds, to open in 2016. The latest census shows growth in all but one age category in the town, with double digit percentage increases in the number of children not yet one year old and the 11-15 age group.
“I think our strong population growth and our continued demonstration of the numbers of youth and young families that are coming to Blackfalds really warrants both school boards — public and Catholic — and the entire education ministry to take notice in Blackfalds. . . I think they need to be concerned that enrollment in the (local schools) doesn’t keep pace with growth in the town, and I think there needs to be some improvements to keep those kids local,” said Stol.
The town’s population is young, with nearly 1,000 kids five and under, according to the census. Wolf Creek Public Schools, of which Blackfalds’ Iron Ridge Elementary Campus and Iron Ridge Junior Campus are a part, is already preparing for the influx, according to superintendent Larry Jacobs.
“We’re changing some room structures around right now to accommodate more students. Rooms that might have been set aside for science, or work areas, or something else have now been retrofitted so they can handle classrooms of students,” he said.
Modular classrooms will be used at the elementary school as well, which Jacobs said will enable the division to accommodate everybody over the next two years. After that, though, massive adjustments might have to be made to the grade structures at local schools to best utilize the space available, he said.
Stol said she was hopeful the new numbers would benefit the ongoing campaign to get a high school as well for the community, but Jacobs said other high schools in the district will need to reach capacity before a new high school will be considered, as Alberta Infrastructure looks at a division as a whole when determining need.
The large growth rates and high youth populations are presenting challenging for the Family and Community Support Services operations in Blackfalds as well. With a provincial funding formula that is outdated for the community, Blackfalds FCSS director Sue Bornn said staffing levels are not keeping up with demand for programming for the pre-kindergarten population.
With the extensive growth in housing development in Blackfalds, the town council instituted a new offsite levy bylaw last month, raising the development cost by about 30 per cent to help pay for the necessary expansions of the water, sewer, and road systems. However, said Stol, the new average cost of $66,446 per hectare remains fair and competitive with area communities.