Red Deer County plans to buy Benalto School.
Council approved the purchase of the school building for a “nominal amount” from Chinook’s Edge School Division, which plans to shutter the school at the end of the month.
A group of parents are rallying to keep a school in their community by applying to operate it as a charter school. They have applied to the province for approval and made their own request to take ownership of the school from the school division for a token amount.
Coun. Richard Lorenz, whose division includes Benalto, has led council support for the community’s efforts to keep their school.
“It’s more than just a school. It’s a full playground set up there and it’s a place for the community to interact. We don’t have another facility in that area set up like that,” he said on Tuesday.
“I think it’s important to save that for the community. Down the road, what we might do with the school is open to options.
“But I think we’re saving something for the community that the community is very interested in.”
Whether parents are successful in keeping a school open remains to be seen.
But owning the school puts the county in the “driver’s seat” for the future of the facility, he said.
Mayor Jim Wood said council believes having a school in the area is important and the county is open to exploring other options.
A charter school is “definitely an option, but it’s not the only option,” he added.
Other possibilities include using it as a community centre of some sort. Whatever the future use, Wood believes the county is in the best position to work with the community to find a good use for the facility and its playground.
“I believe it’s only prudent that we made the decision we did today.”
County manager Curtis Herzberg said the purchase has not been finalized but there is not expected to be any issue transferring ownership to the municipality.
“It’s very common that municipalities are actually consulted first to see if there is a continued need outside of what it has been used for.”
Once the county has official ownership, there can be more community discussion about future uses, he added.
In coming out in support of the school, the county pointed out it has invested millions in Benalto, which it sees as a future residential growth area. In the last year, the county spent $20,000 on the playground.