Residential growth in south Red Deer is forcing the Red Deer Public School District to add classroom space to three schools.
On Tuesday, Red Deer’s municipal planning commission authorized modular additions to Mountview, Mattie McCullough and G.W. Smith elementary schools. Two new classrooms are proposed for each of Mountview and Mattie McCullough, with one to be added at G.W. Smith.
All will be linked to their schools by an enclosed corridor and their exterior finishes will tie into that of the schools.
Despite authorizing the additions, some commission members worried about the approval process.
City manager Craig Curtis said the portable structures “contribute to a lower aesthetic value” of the schools, particularly as they age. He suggested city staff consider whether modular additions should be subject to periodic review.
City planning manager Nancy Hackett questioned why nearby property owners aren’t notified when schools seek to install modular additions. She recommended that staff address this issue.
Councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer, who is a former teacher, said she sympathizes with the school district. Its ability to expand and build schools is dependent on government funding.
“They’re desperate,” she said, noting that some schools are forced to use libraries and other non-teaching space as classrooms.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling observed the Southbrook, Inglewood, Aspen Heights and Vanier Woods subdivisions have all been developed without any new schools being built.
Bruce Buruma, director of community relations with the school district, confirmed after the meeting that existing schools in the area are being affected. Modular additions are one way to cope.
“This is providing relief for some of the space crunch we’re experiencing, particularly in the south end of Red Deer,” he said, adding that the modulars are expected to relieve current space constraints and give the district room to accommodate anticipated future growth.
George Berry of Berry Architecture & Associates spoke on behalf of the school district at the commission meeting. He said later that the modular additions project should go out to tender within four to six weeks, and be completed as soon as possible.
The schools will cope until then, said Buruma.
“In the past where we’ve had art rooms and computer rooms, those are no longer there.”
Long term, he added, new capital investment is the solution to the problem.
“Our No. 1 priority right now is a new school in the Aspen Ridge area.”
However, with the tight finances the province is dealing with, there’s no certainty when that project might receive a green light.