Province announces new schools for City and region

With the aim of easing the ongoing student space crunch, plans for a slate of new local schools was recently announced by the province.

Red Deer will see a new francophone Kindergarten-Grade 12 school and two new K-5 schools constructed over the next couple of years. They should be operation by the fall of 2014, said Dave Hancock, education minister, during a recent stop in the City.

A new junior-senior high school is also planned for Penhold, plus several improvements to schools in Innisfail and Penhold are planned.

“We have a growing student population. Over the next 10 years, we’ll have 100,000 more students in our system,” he said. “We’re probably the only jurisdiction in North America that can say that.”

Hancock said young families are increasingly opting to make Central Alberta their home.

Also, 50% of the province’s schools are more than 40 years old, so it’s definitely time to spend on modernizations, he said.

Hancock said the local school boards worked together on a planning process that looked at what the infrastructure needs were for Central Alberta.

“That was very important to us as we moved ahead with our 10-year plan.”

The projects will be delivered through a combination of public-private partnerships and regional ‘bundles’. Officials say this will pave the way for faster completion of the schools while taking advantage of “core school designs, economies of scale and private-sector innovations.”

The announcement came on the heels of the earlier promise by the province to inject $550 million into school infrastructure projects. But not everyone was overly impressed by the news.

Kent Hehr, Alberta Liberals education critic, said he wanted to know how the government expects to operate its new schools when budget projections fall short of the funds needed to pay for teachers and other staff.

“The Alberta Teachers’ Association is projecting over a thousand positions will be cut this year,” he said. “If we can’t even fund the schools we have now, how does Education Minister Dave Hancock think he can fund all of these new schools he announced this week?”

Hehr said the Tories have a history of spending hundreds of millions on infrastructure only to allow the buildings to sit empty for lack of operational funding.

“The government has two choices: fund public education properly, or cut programs. Are they going to give public education the support it needs, or are they going to force school boards to lay off more teachers and cut more programs?”