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New Penhold school expected to provide community boost

Official ground-breaking on Friday for Penhold Waskasoo Middle School
A small crowd turned out for a Friday sod-turning ceremony for the new Penhold Waskasoo Middle School under construction and opening in fall 2025. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

New schools often tick an important box for house hunters looking to move to a community.

That is among the reasons Penhold Mayor Mike Yargeau is excited to see construction underway on Penhold Waskasoo Middle School next to the secondary school that opened in 2014 and the multiplex recreation facility that opened in 2010.

The opening of the high school created a mini boom at the time.

"This whole area took off around here," said Yargeau said at a sod-turning ceremony for the new school on Friday attended by Chinook's Edge school officials, board members, teachers and students; town council representatives and Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen.

"When you're a young family looking to move to an area and you want drive through and you see a beautiful recreation area with two schools and a big recreation facility like that these are the type of things that bring people here. So, for us it's huge."

In the 2011 federal census, Penhold had a population of 2,375. Five years later, population soared by nearly 40 per cent to 3,277 and increased again to 3,484 in the 2021 count.

The town is in the middle of its latest municipal census and Yargeau is expecting it to show healthy growth with a population in the 4,000 range.

"Most of growth right now is internal growth because we have so many young families here and they're all having kids. So, even though we're not building as many houses as we might have been eight years ago we're growing."

For Chinook's Edge School Division, the new school addresses a pressing need.

Shawn Russell, associate superintendent for corporate services, said the existing Grades 4-6 Penhold Elementary School and its 250 to 300 students is at 120 per cent capacity.

Once the new school is built, Penhold Elementary, first opened in 1954 and upgraded a number of times since, will be demolished. 

Grades 4-8 Penhold Waskasoo will have 550 spaces when it opens and is designed to expand to about 725 students.

Staff, students, the community and parents all had input into the design.

"We looked at ways that we can build unique learning spaces within (such as) learning commons areas around the building. We do have a robotics lab that's going into this school.

"It will be quite a modern up-to-date experience for the students when they come," he said.

Those learning and teaching in a building reflecting the latest school design will obviously benefit, but so will the community, he agreed.

"When you have a strong school system it adds to the attractiveness of the community."

Chinook's Edge board vice-chair Sherry Cooper said the new school was built to meet the needs of today's students.

"Things have changed in education so I'm really looking forward to some of the exciting things we can do with a new build that's really going to enhance the experience for students learning there and into the future."

There will be spinoffs for the community, she predicted.

"One of the things we saw when we built Penhold Crossing (Secondary School) was the impact it had on the community. As a result the other two schools were bursting at the seams so they had to make the request to the province to take a look at giving us some more spaces."

Board chair Holly Bilton said the new school has a good location near a recreation facility, parks and ball diamonds and another school.

"Being able to have these two schools on this one major piece of land just really enhances that student experience and allows us to grow as a community."








Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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