by Colin Smith
A second public school in Morinville has come closer to reality with approval of planning funds by the Alberta government.
Education Minister Gordon Dirks announced the funding had been approved on Friday, Dec. 12.
The proposed school would have an opening capacity of 600 students in Grades 5 to 9, with the possibility of expanding to 1,000 to accommodate Grades 10 to 12 when numbers warrant.
“We’re really pleased,” said Michele Dick, Superintendent of Schools for the Sturgeon School Division.
Morinville’s first public school, designed for Kindergarten to Grade 4, opened about two years ago and has since taken in students up to Grade 7. The school population has more than tripled, straining its capacity.
Public school supporters have been working toward getting a provincial government commitment to build a second school for the further grades for some time.
But it was Premier Jim Prentice’s October 8 announcement of 55 new schools and 20 modernization projects that brought matters to a head. Among them was a new Catholic K-6 school in Morinville, but no public school.
Two days later the Supporters of Public Education in Morinville launched a petition urging construction of a public junior high and/or high school in the community.
In its 2015-2018 capital plan, submitted earlier to Alberta Education, Sturgeon School Division had sought funding for a new public school in the town.
However, according to Dirks, a review of which school projects to recommend for planning funds determined that the division’s capital requirements had not yet been sufficiently “scoped,” or assessed.
The division submitted an updated capital plan following an early November project scoping session set up by provincial officials, at which the future direction for public schools in Morinville.
Dick said the “enhanced” business plan that came out of the scoping session identified as the division’s first priority a new Grade 5 to 9 school for 600 students, that could unfold to 1,000. Its second priority was modernization and expansion of the existing Morinville Public Elementary School.
“I am pleased that the approved planning funding will enable Sturgeon to move forward with this project,” said Dirks
Dick said the division will start immediately on the planning process, including meeting with Education officials. Consultations with Town of Morinville will also take place over possible school sites.
She also hopes students and parents will take part in the planning.
“It is intended to be a community school, so we want the community involved. So it’s going to be about hearing that voice and integrating it into the process.
Dick said the division doesn’t yet know how much in the way of funds are coming its way, but other school divisions have received $700,000 to $750,000 for the planning, drawing and design phase.
According to Sarah Hall, School Council Chair for Morinville Public Schools, the announcement produced excitement and relief.
“We are just so grateful!” said Hall. “For this announcement to happen for us before Christmas was what we have been pushing and hoping for.”
She said that although the government has only promised us planning dollars it will enable the vision parents have had for Morinville Public Schools to move forward.
“What this means for our community, now and in the future, is huge. Not only will our students have a place to continue their public education in town, but future Morinville families now have the same options the rest of Canada has, when it comes to choosing education for their children.”
Hall is convinced the petition campaign played a big part in reaching this outcome.
“I believe every action taken, from parents writing letters, media coverage, petition signatures, involvement and information meetings, social media coverage, the values scoping and MLA, Kent Hehr’s questions in legislature has helped bring us to this announcement,” she said. “In spreading the word and educating the public on the oversight happening here, we were able to bring much needed attention to our predicament.
Hall also credited the positive outcome to the support of Alberta Education representatives Laurel Udell and Michael Ediger.
“We could not have had this most positive outcome without their advocacy on our behalf, and the hard work and long hours put in by our parents, trustees, superintendent and staff.”