École La Prairie site now viewed as best option for francophone school

After losing the battle to build a new school in Aspen Ridge, Greater North Central Francophone Education Region is looking to rebuild at its current location near Kin Kanyon with additional land from the city.

After losing the battle to build a new school in Aspen Ridge, Greater North Central Francophone Education Region is looking to rebuild at its current location near Kin Kanyon with additional land from the city.

“Don’t get me wrong. We’re still disappointed. That’s not the site we wanted. But we’ll make it work. It’s a beautiful location. The parents will be more than happy to stay there if that’s the best we can come up with,” said Nicole Lorrain, francophone school board trustee.

On Monday, city council unanimously defeated a motion to rezone a school site on Addington Drive so it could be a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 francophone school instead of a public kindergarten to Grade 8 school.

On Tuesday afternoon, city administrators, representatives from Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Education, and the francophone jurisdiction met to discuss other site options — there were none.

Lorrain said Alberta Infrastructure wasn’t prepared to pay Chinook’s Edge School Division for land near River Glen School. As the site of an old landfill, it was also not a suitable location.

She said a site in the new residential area in the city’s north east was not yet connected to city services so construction would take too long.

The francophone jurisdiction met late Tuesday to figure out how to make École La Prairie’s current location work, which would require land from the city to expand the school site.

“We don’t own the whole piece of land where our school is. The city owns a big strip of it which is where the Kinsmen Hall is and two pond hockey fields and back there to the east,” Lorrain said.

The city had plans to build a community centre at the back of the lot and a spray park.

“There would have to be some accommodation there. Obviously, all those things can’t be built on this land if we’re building a school there.”

The school jurisdiction will give the city its plan for the site today.

Lorrain said if the details can be worked out within the next two weeks, the francophone school will be part of the public-private partnership, or P3, tender to build 13 new schools in Alberta.

Tracy Larsen, an Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson, said the delay in finding a site for the planned francophone pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 school will not affect construction or time lines for Red Deer Public School District’s and the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division’s kindergarten to Grade 5 schools and Chinook’s Edge School Division’s new Grade 7 to Grade 12 school in Penhold.

“We’re going to continue to work with the francophone board to find a suitable site for their school,” Larsen said. “The P3 process is still moving ahead as planned. Sometimes in a project this big there are things that come up that are unexpected but we work through them.”

Larsen said the other schools in the bundle are moving forward in the procurement process and a partner is expected to be named in the fall.

“The francophone school has already been approved and we’re committed to delivering it whether it’s part of a P3 bundle or if indeed it’s a stand-alone project,” she said.

The Greater North Central Francophone Education Region operates the city’s only francophone school.

In May 2011 when Alberta Education approved 22 new schools in the province, a new francophone kindergarten to Grade 12 to replace the aging facility was on the list.

The francophone school board does not have any designated school sites in the city. Red Deer Public agreed to transfer the Aspen Ridge site pending municipal approval of the rezoning.

However, many residents in the Aspen Ridge neighourbood wrote letters opposing the kindergarten to Grade 12 school because of increased traffic and parking and other concerns. About 125 residents attended a March 5 public meeting, one of the largest in recent history.

Resident Cory Litzenberger said he is not against a school in the neighbourhood. Litzenberger said he felt the provincial government forced the city to make a decision without consulting them in advance.

“You’re basically taking the ability of the city and of the school boards in Red Deer to collaborate and find a proper home, a proper location for a (kindergarten to Grade 12) francophone school and you are forcing it on them,” said Litzenberger. “To me, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done.”

Litzenberger said he is glad the city is looking to find a viable option for the francophone school.

“We want to make sure that there is the right school at the right place for the students,” he said.

Another resident and land developer Guy Pelletier said he was concerned with the integrity of the city planning process. He said residents made decisions to live in the area based on city planning documents that included either a kindergarten to Grade 5 or a kindergarten to Grade 8 school. Pelletier said city council needs to ensure residents can have faith in the process.

“Plans are always open for change but all the impacted parties must agree,” said Pelletier. “The school, the city and the residents were the three parties. If one of those three parties disagrees, then to me the city had no choice to not approve those amendments.”

Pelletier said an appropriate site could have been set aside for the francophone district years ago. He said the school board has lobbied for a new school for several years.

“No where in the city planning documents does it designate a kindergarten to Grade 12 school,” he said. “That gap could have been filled a long time ago . . . The city could have allowed for that plan to be created a long time ago. Because it wasn’t, it sure seemed rushed now.”

Red Deer Public Schools board chairman Lawrence Lee said he was disappointed with the response from the residents who were not looking to the future. He said the new school would have added a better sense of community and given opportunities for that community to strengthen its local area involvement.

Lee said Red Deer Public will wait to see what the options are for the francophone board and work with them corroboratively. École La Prairie will host an open house at the school from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

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