Alberta Infrastructure to handle construction of new school in Blackfalds

Wolf Creek Public Schools is letting Alberta Infrastructure handle the building of the division’s new elementary school set for Blackfalds.

Wolf Creek Public Schools is letting Alberta Infrastructure handle the building of the division’s new elementary school set for Blackfalds.

Provincial funding for the project was announced in spring 2013 and up until last month Wolf Creek believed a public-private partnership (P3) would get the school built.

But in mid-June the government announced it was abandoning the P3 approach for 19 schools, including the one in Blackfalds.

Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale said it would be up to school divisions to decide whether they wanted to take control of the projects or have the Infrastructure department manage the build.

Drysdale also said that because of the P3 pullback, the opening dates for the 19 schools may be pushed back from the previously-pledged September 2016 date.

With Wolf Creek’s existing schools in the fast-growing town already full, the division has opted to put the build in the ministry’s hands, believing that will ensure it gets done quicker.

Wolf Creek secretary/treasurer Joe Henderson said Thursday that timelines are crucial with the project. That, and risks such as “budget sufficiency” made the idea of the division handling the design and build less desirable.

“We have not received any firm indications of when the project will move ahead as yet but we are hopeful to get it started in early 2015,” said Henderson.

The location for the build has been determined — a ‘Building Alberta’ sign has been up at the Cottonwood Meadows site since last October — and a good deal of planning work has already been done. Municipal development permits have been secured, a preliminary design has been completed, and a community meeting has been held to discuss possible grade configurations.

Henderson said the division has alerted Alberta Infrastructure of its decision and the process is continuing. At last month’s announcement, Drysdale said tenders would be going out in summer for the builds.

In 10 years, Blackfalds’ population has nearly doubled to 7,275 persons, according to the 2013 municipal census. Over 800 students attended the town’s K-4 and Grade 5-9 schools in 2013/14. Those configurations could be altered when the new school opens.

Four new schools opening in September in Red Deer and Penhold were built using the P3 model. Three other builds for Red Deer and Sylvan Lake announced in early 2014 and also scheduled to open in 2016 will be handled by local school divisions using provincial grant funding.

Wolf Creek superintendent Larry Jacobs, while originally supportive of the public-private partnership method for financial and efficiency reasons, has said that the government came to bundle too many projects together, reducing the ability of small and medium-sized builders to bid on the work. In this case, the P3 approached was abandoned after only one consortium bid on the bundle.

The province has committed to funding 50 new school builds and a further 70 modernizations. The steadfast promises that all projects would be completed by 2016 are gone, with officials now saying some may finish up in 2017.

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