Strong showing of residents at francophone school hearing

Council chambers as well as two additional meeting rooms were filled with members of the public Monday as council opened the public hearing regarding a K-12 francophone school in Aspen Ridge.

Over the course of the last few months council has been conducting public surveys as well as asking for feedback from residents regarding their views on the proposed re-designation of a site on Addington Dr.

The site was originally meant to be a K-5 school but changed to a K-8 in 1999. Now, the public school board has said they don’t need the site and permitted the Greater North Francophone Education Region to request the site.

Haley Mountstephan, City senior planner, explained that this francophone K-12 school would completely replace the current École La Prairie on the south hill at 4810 35 St.

During the first survey Mountstephan said they received 196 letters with only three in support of the re-designation of the school site. During the second survey 115 letters were received with eight in support of the change.

The two bylaws that require changes are the East Hill Major Area Structure Plan (MASP) as well as the Aspen Ridge Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan (NASP).

“The East Hill MASP provides policy for Catholic K-9 or public K-8 schools and high schools but not for a general K-12 school,” said Mountstephan.

Standards for a high school in the City require that it be on the corner of a quarter section located on arterial roads and on the exterior or away from residential areas.

“These standards are developed for high schools that see 1,000 or more students, not the francophone limit of 70 high school students.”

Mountstephan said that even though there have been so many letters in opposition of the re-designation to a K-12 school, City planning does support the application.

“Planning rationale does encourage us to use the sites that we have to ensure that we don’t have sites sitting vacant when they could be in use.”

Nicole Lorraine from the Francophone Education Region addressed a number of concerns of the public that had been voiced in letters and emails.

“Traffic, for one, is minimal. We offer free bussing to all students so the result is very little traffic save for those busses,” she said.

There is currently a K-12 francophone school in Edmonton and Lorraine said about 30 students graduate every year from that school to give an idea of how few high school students this site would see.

Ian Le Maistre of Red Deer said he is in favour of the francophone school.

“I grew up a francophone in Quebec and know what it’s like to be a minority language speaker,” said Le Maistre. He explained that his children both started school at École La Prairie but were forced to complete high school at Lindsay Thurber because there is no francophone high school.

“There may not be and probably won’t be an English school at this site even if École La Prairie does not move in. Why would the public division have given that site up if they were planning to build a school there?”

Cory Litzenberger lives in Aspen Ridge and said he and his wife did not move in because of the school, but because of their walkout basement.

“We did like the neighbourhood and the idea of a school being built. We support the Catholic system and our daughter will be going on a bus on Addington Drive and my concern is the traffic.”

He said he wants to make sure that his daughter is safe getting on and off the bus during the day.

“It’s unfortunate that the province appears to have forced this on us in a very short and limited time frame. We need to look at all viable options but because of time constraints that option is not in front of us,” said Litzenberger.

Many suggestions were made by the public regarding other locations, suggestions to put the francophone K-8 on this site and house the Grades 9-12 school elsewhere and many other recommendations.

The item will come back to council for discussion and a decision on March 19.