Central Alberta will get four new schools and three school modernization projects thanks to a surprise provincial announcement on Tuesday.
The local plans are among 35 new school projects totalling about $550 million expected to address the existing space crunch and projected student growth across Alberta.
They include 22 new and replacement schools and 13 modernizations.
There are no details yet about specific sites or construction dates. On Thursday, Education Minister Dave Hancock and Infrastructure Minister Ray Danyluk will reveal more details on the Central Alberta projects when they visit Hunting Hills High School in Red Deer.
School superintendents and school board trustees alike were pleasantly surprised to hear the announcement about the new projects that will help alleviate the pressures on existing schools and provide better learning environment for students
Local schools have long faced the challenges of teaching students in cramped spaces, in makeshift classrooms and in aging facilities.
Red Deer Public School Division and the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools will each add an elementary school to its jurisdiction.
The Greater North Central Francophone Education Region, which oversees Ecole La Prairie elementary school and Red Deer’s only francophone school, will open a new kindergarten to Grade 12 school.
Chinook’s Edge School Division will open its first high school in Penhold. Modernization projects have been approved for Innisfail, Ponoka and Trochu.
Since the projects are based on the capital infrastructure plans submitted annually by the school boards, division superintendents gave their best guess on where the new schools may be constructed.
In Red Deer Public, a new southeast elementary school has topped the capital wish list for several years. The influx of new residents and residential development in southeast Red Deer have driven much of the space crunch in the schools.
“We have students whose classrooms are in closets,” said superintendent Piet Langstraat. “The library at Mattie McCullough Elementary School has not been a library for a number of years. It’s been a kindergarten classrooms. This will provide a lot better spaces for students.”
The new kindergarten to Grade 5 school would accommodate up to 600 students.
Langstraatt said River Glen School, a kindergarten to Grade 12 school in the Chinook’s Edge School Division, may be transferred to Red Deer Public jurisdiction because of the new high school in Penhold. Currently students from Penhold take the bus to River Glen. Penhold’s new high school will likely be built next to the Penhold Multiplex.
The Grade 3 to Grade 12 students attending the Gateway Christian School would move into River Glen School.
Red Deer Catholic’s new kindergarten to Grade 5 school will likely be built on a site in the Clearview north neighbourhood.
Supt. Paulette Hanna said this school will give the division the much-needed space to run its programs.
“Libraries are often used as classrooms,” she said. “Computer labs and science rooms are turned into classrooms. We will be able to accommodate the students in a facility that meets their needs.”
Henri Lemire, the superintendent of the Greater North Central Francophone Education Region, said their new kindergarten to Grade 12 school could be built on the Ecole La Prairie site or near Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School.
Enrolment at the kindergarten to Grade 9 school has not been consistent and numbers have dwindled over the years.
Lemire said the aging elementary school is not conducive for retaining middle school and high school students.
The new school will help increase the enrolment.
The shared facility of John Wilson Elementary School and the St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School in Innisfail are expected to receive a much-needed makeover.
Both Chinook’s Edge and the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Divisions have been lobbying for renovations for many years. Chinook’s Edge board of trustees chairwoman Colleen Butler said the renovations or an extension would give students more space.
The remaining area modernization projects were announced for schools in Trochu and Ponoka.
Many of the 22 new or replacement schools will be financed through a combined procurement approach, including private-public partnerships, regionally-bundled design-build and individual design-bid-build projects. Work is expected to begin on some of the projects in the province almost immediately.