Council quashes francophone school site

City council has taken the recommendation of City Manager Craig Curtis and defeated a motion to re-zone the Aspen Ridge school site to allow for a K-12 francophone school.

Among the list of reasons for defeating the motion were the public’s clear concern for this school in their area, the disappointment with the provincial government, as well as safety and traffic concerns.

Some of the disappointment with the province came from a sign that was put up at a time of miscommunication. The sign went up saying that the school had been approved and was a future location for the francophone school. This was in error and after some complaints the sign was removed and a letter of apology was received.

Curtis’ recommendation read that council would deny the application for the Aspen Ridge site and direct administration to work with Alberta Education and the francophone board to explore other options.

“We would need to explore sites with zoning that will accommodate this development and facilitate early approval through the Municipal Planning Commission,” said Curtis.

Council agreed that the francophone school is necessary in Red Deer and that it is not a matter of denying the school, but denying the site.

“I can’t overstate the importance of the francophone school to our community. It represents our diversity and a lot of good things have come to the community since they arrived,” said Councillor Cindy Jefferies.

Curtis pointed out that the amount of people at the public hearing hit record numbers for any single meeting at council in recent memory.

“Many people feel passionately and feel that the rezoning would not reflect their wishes,” said Curtis.

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he isn’t sure how many people attended as two of the overflow rooms were packed, but he estimates that about 25 people spoke at the public hearing.

Councillor Tara Veer said that rezoning this site would have put doubt in the public’s mind about their ability to trust council to hold true to their word.

“I support the development of schools but not at this location. I am confident that we can find the right location to ensure that the francophone school can see their vision in a timely manner,” said Veer.

It was agreed upon that the decision made must benefit the public. The Aspen Ridge site has already been re-zoned in the past from a K-5 to a K-8 and Veer said that is part of the problem because the City isn’t being held accountable to the zoning.

“From my perspective a decision to amend the plans to allow a K-12 school in Aspen Ridge would create considerable angst in the neighbourhood and undermine residents’ confidence in the City’s statutory plans,” said Curtis.

Many recommendations were made including the possibility of keeping the francophone school where it currently is and using the provincial funding to expand the site to a more conducive area.

“If we can make the current location work that would be great. I think of the learning environment and opportunities that would be available if the current site were developed,” said Councillor Paul Harris.

Harris said that keeping the school in its current location could mean that students would have greater access to walking trails, the downtown core and Red Deer’s other high schools.

“There is a real possibility here for us to create the best school that we’ve ever seen for the francophone board.”

The motion passed unanimously to discuss with Alberta Education and the francophone board the possibility of other locations for the K-12 school.