Opposition to a proposed francophone school in a south-end Red Deer neighbourhood is disappointing, a school trustee of the Greater North Central Francophone Education Region No. 2 said on Monday.
Nicole Lorrain, who represents rural schools in Wainwright, Red Deer and Fort McMurray, attended Monday’s city council meeting where elected leaders supported first readings for rezoning the school site from a public kindergarten to Grade 8 school to a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 francophone school.
“It’s a sad state when they don’t want a school in their neighbourhood,” said Lorrain outside council chambers. “But certainly a public hearing will be a good thing. It will give them an opportunity, and us as an applicant to give our vision for the school and what it will mean for the community.”
The public hearing will be held on March 5 at 6 p.m. in council chambers. Council could consider second and final readings to amend the East Hill Major Area Structure Plan and the Aspen Ridge Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan, or they could postpone a decision after receiving public input.
Council supported to have administration send out more detailed information to residents within the vicinity of the school slated to be built on green space along Addington Drive in Aspen Ridge. In December, letters were sent to residents about the Francophone school, but some details were missing.
The city received 193 letters of opposition and three letters in favour of the school.
Haley Mountstephen, a senior planner with the City of Red Deer, said residents may not be aware that parking must be provided on site.
“They may be thinking that all parking would be along the street and that there wouldn’t be parking on site,” she said.
All recreational amenities on site, including a soccer field, would not be affected as a result of the school being built there, she added.
The new Francophone school is one of three P3 (public private partnerships) school projects that the province has planned for Red Deer. The schools will open for the 2014-15 school year.
About 250 students would attend the Francophone school — 70 of whom would be high school students.
Lorrain said she wasn’t surprised by the level of opposition.
One resident distributed a form letter throughout the community and people just had to fill their name and address and send it in, Lorrain said.
School representatives and Mountstephen met with community association representatives last week. It turned out to be a great meeting, Lorrain said.
“We were able to come to resolution,” Lorrain said.
Lorrain said the school division buses its students for free, which means that vehicle traffic would be cut down significantly.
The high school student figure was listed as 70, but that likely involves Grade 7 to 12 students, she added.
“Out of that figure, you are looking at under a dozen (who are going to drive),” said Lorrain.
Lorrain said the school is being designed with the community in mind. The public will have access to the huge gymnasium, the full use of the kitchen and open atrium area, as well as meeting rooms.
While the process is holding up the other school projects planned for Red Deer, Lorrain said the other concern is what will happen if this site is rejected. There are no other sites designated for kindergarten-to-Grade 12. And there are no sites designated for the francophone school district, while the local public and Catholic school districts do have sites within Red Deer.
Red Deer city councillor Chris Stephan voted against first readings because of the swell of opposition in the neighbourhood. He also opposed sending out information because “we’re going to be spending taxpayers’ resources and invest a lot of money into trying to educate the public.”
Coun. Cindy Jefferies said this is a school with a regional base, so it will draw students from surrounding areas as well, which is good.
“I wonder what we’re saying when we don’t want a school in our neighbourhood,” Jefferies said.
Coun. Buck Buchanan said he believes this school fits in with the area. Some residents may be assuming this high school will be like the much larger ones in town where some 2,000 students attend at each, he said.
This is more like the Koinonia Christian School in Riverside Meadows where they graduate about 12 to 15 people.
“The comparables are way off,” Buchanan said. “If we don’t want a school in a neighbourhood, where are we going?”