Make room for school

Red Deer city planners have taken great care over the last few decades to plot neighbourhoods with plenty of greenspace.

Red Deer city planners have taken great care over the last few decades to plot neighbourhoods with plenty of greenspace.

Some of it is intended as park, some is provided as potential sites for schools, and yet more has been set aside for the possible addition of emergency services facilities.

This kind of foresight is both prudent and expected. To do less, as planners, would leave us with areas of the city without adequate services and, ultimately, seriously infringe on our quality of life.

Who is willing to wait 10 or more minutes for emergency response?

Who wants to drive across town to deliver their child to school, or have their urban child spend more than an hour on the bus every day? Or are we to place schools only in commercial or industrial areas?

The greenspaces that could become schools or firehalls are clearly marked and the thorough home buyer (and real estate agent) can easily find out the long-term plans for such spaces through City Hall.

From a planning perspective, space must be reserved so that schools are near families, as provincial money is available to build those schools; and so that emergency responders can get to fires and accidents as quickly as possible.

From a home buyer’s perspective, the fact that space has been set aside for such essential services should be a reassurance.

To see it as a detriment to the neighbourhood that space has been designated for schools and firehalls is selfish and foolish.

Just because the space is first rendered as parkland, and enjoyed as such, doesn’t mean we should take for granted that it will always be parkland. Circumstances change: as an area becomes more heavily populated, services are needed; as money becomes available, quality of life expectations of the majority should dictate public facility development.

Yet in Aspen Ridge, a large number of residents apparently want nothing to do with a francophone school proposed for a site along Addington Drive. (Would it be different if a public or Catholic school were proposed instead, and a greater number of users lived in the neighbourhood?)

The school, operated by the Greater North Central Francophone Education Region No. 2, will have a student population of about 250, well less than your average elementary or middle school — and dramatically less than the three dedicated high schools in the city, which all have well over 1,500 students.

Only about 70 students of the total school population are expected to be enrolled in the upper six grades, and only a handful of students would drive to school.

Another small proportion would be driven by their parents; the remainder would be bused to the site.

Yet opponents in the neighbourhood say they are concerned about traffic pattern changes and parking.

Concerns have also been expressed about the use of portable classrooms, the impact on residents at the nearby hospice and stormwater management. Each of these objections seems like so much grasping at straws.

City council supported first reading for rezoning of the site on Monday (from public kindergarten to Grade 8 to the all-grades proposal sought for the francophone school) and called for a public hearing on March 5. Second and third readings could follow.

In the meantime, city staff have been asked to do a traffic impact assessment (a preliminary report says the area can handle the increased traffic).

At the same time, residents should look a little closer at their own objections to the school. The project will not alter the recreational facilities on site, including a soccer field, and will give the public access to the school’s gym, kitchen, atrium and meeting rooms.

And the process — through three readings at council and during the municipal planning commission’s examination of the proposal — gives opponents and proponents ample opportunity to get this right.

But rejecting a school to protect a little parkland, or because a few more cars and buses might come into your neighbourhood each day, seems narrow-minded in the extreme.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.