Red Deer is starting the new school year next week with three shiny, new schools — a first for the city.
It’s not a coincidence. It’s the result of the province’s P3 (public-private partnership) approach to school construction that has since been scrapped.
The three schools were among 12 built across the province as part of a $288-million contract and the government’s $2-billion commitment to open 50 new schools and modernize a further 70.
“This is the first time (construction) has really been bundled. One contractor. One schedule. One completion date,” said Bruce Buruma, Red Deer Public Schools community relations director.
Next week, Red Deer Public will open Ecole Barrie Wilson Elementary School in Timberlands, a dual-track school for both English and French immersion students, from kindergarten to Grade 5.
Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division will welcome pre-kindergarten to Grade 5 students to Father Henri Voisin School in Clearview Ridge.
Ecole La Prairie has a new home. The kindergarten to Grade 12 school for the North Central Francophone Education Region was built next door to its old site west of Piper Creek on 34th Street.
Another one of Alberta’s 12 new schools, Penhold Crossing Secondary School, also opens for the 2014-15 school year for Chinook’s Edge School Division. The Grade 7-12 facility was built onto the existing Penhold Regional Multiplex.
Red Deer Catholic superintendent Paul Mason said opening three new schools is definitely unique for Red Deer.
“We’ve opened a number of schools in Red Deer. This is probably the first time all three will open up simultaneously,” Mason said.
“We’re finding with Red Deer’s population that additional space is quickly being utilized with new people moving into Red Deer and more students coming into Red Deer Catholic.”
Four portable classrooms are expected to arrive at Ecole Notre Dame High School in early September and Ecole Camille J. Lerouge School should be getting two portables in early October.
He said enrollment at Father Henri Voisin School is ahead of projection with about 230 students. The school has room for 300 students.
Red Deer Public trustee Bill Stuebing said if Ecole Barrie Wilson School had not been built, the division would have started looking at things like double shifting in about four years, basically running two schools out of one building.
“We were absolutely jammed,” Stuebing said.
“That’s been kind of our story, trying to play catch up on finding suitable of space in our schools. Certainly for about the last 15 years or so, we’ve been pressed. It’s not surprising when you look at the growth rates of Red Deer.”
Red Deer Public enrolment is estimated at 10,500.
Elsewhere in the public district, Gateway Christian programs located at Pines School and the former Central Elementary School will be combined in September and taking over the former River Glen School (a Chinook’s Edge school until this er), to offer kindergarten to Grade 12.
The public’s Spanish bilingual program is taking over Pines School, offering kindergarten to Grade 2. It will add a grade each year to become a kindergarten to Grade 5 school.
Buruma said the former Central Elementary School will not operate as a school for now. It’s the current location of Central Alberta Regional Consortium, a professional development organization for education and the district is exploring partnerships with more organizations for the building.
So far Barrie Wilson has 361 students enrolled, 37 per cent in French immersion, where Red Deer Library is opening a new branch that will be open to the public year-round.
Bev Manning, school board chair with Red Deer Public, said it’s important to join with the community when it comes to school construction.
“We believe these are public dollars and they should be used wisely on behalf of our community so we’re excited,” Manning said.
Catholic students at Father Henri Voisin will be venturing into their neighbourhood to visit Villa Marie seniors facility and seniors will go to the school so the two groups can spend time together through a new partnership.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to look for the school to become part of the community,” Mason said.
Ecole La Prairie is opening with 146 students, with 22 from Red Deer. The francophone school serves from Red Deer to Ponoka, Sylvan Lake and Innisfail. It will have capacity for 300 students.
Kurt Sacher, Chinook’s Edge superintendent, said in the last few days at least 23 new students have signed up for Penhold Crossing Secondary School. Enrolment is expected to be about 200. The school is built to handle up to 500 students to handle growth at the elementary level.
He said Sylvan Lake is also seeing more students. Four portable classrooms just arrived in Sylvan Lake for C.P. Blakely Elementary School.
“We look forward to getting those classrooms up and running and we’ve moving as quickly as possibly we can,” Sacher said.
Enrolment for the Chinook’s Edge is expected to be up slightly from 10,800.
By Christmas, Wolf Creek School Division will have completed the modernization of two schools in Ponoka because there was too much space for the number of students. Grades were reconfigured and Ponoka Elementary School will be eliminated.
The $13-million upgrade to Ponoka Secondary Campus, for Grades 7 to 12, means students will soon be able to hold theatre productions and access more CTS (career and technology studies) programs.
The former Diamond Willow Middle School is being transformed into Ponoka Elementary Campus for kindergarten to Grade 6. The school was closed for the $6 to 8-million modernization and will reopen after Christmas. For the time being, students will remain at Ponoka Elementary School.
Superintendent Larry Jacobs said students won’t recognize the former middle school. Gone is the “egg crate” layout.
“Inside it’s very dramatically different. The structure has more flexibility for students moving around the building. There are more open areas,” Jacobs said.
Overall, enrolment in Wolf Creek schools is in the 7,200 to 7,400 range and is expected to be up slightly in September.
He said the Blackfalds and Lacombe area is where enrolment is climbing.
“That’s where we’re having an awful lot of new families move in. The whole corridor on Hwy 2 is growing. Outside of that area, we have some decline in numbers,” Jacobs said.
In Rocky Mountain House, Visions West Outreach School, run by Wild Rose School Division, has moved out of the basement of a local museum and into the former provincial building on 50th Street for September. Family wellness workers and Going the Distance School Completion Program have also relocated to the site.
“When the kids come, sometimes they need more support, but if it’s not in the same place they don’t access it. Now we’ll be able to help better serve the broad spectrum of needs that they bring to us,” said Wildrose superintendent Brian Celli.
He said the new site is well located for students and offered more space to combine the programs.
Classes start in all the school jurisdictions on Tuesday.