It is with a discouraged heart that I write to you once again about the seemingly impossible and seemingly impassable public school situation which continues in the town of Morinville.
This week, parents of Morinville public school received [a] letter from Sturgeon School Division Board, updating them on the progress of our new public Jr. high school. Indicated in the letter is the fact that ALL planning and design associated with the direly needed new school, has been suspended. The reaction, not alarmingly, were of parents feeling disbelief, anger and confusion with a plethora of questions left unanswered.
Since 2010, many of you have been following the saga of the struggle for public education in Morinville. It started with a small group of parents, fighting for what they believed in, to change legislature on a singularly catholic school system that was long outdated. That same group of parents later fought for an actual school building to house the growing Morinville public school population, which eventually they were granted by the government, when one of the four catholic schools located in Morinville, was turned over to the public sector. In 2014, out of desperation and frustration, parents were forced to once again rise to petition the Alberta government to be included in the new school announcements. After an involved process with Alberta education, planning and infrastructure, Sturgeon School Division (SSD), architects, parents and town officials, the dire need was confirmed and they too, were granted the planning dollars towards a much needed new Jr. high/high school.
For seven months after the new school announcement was made, SSD worked diligently to secure land from the Town of Morinville. Talks and correspondence with town officials made it glaringly clear that the new public school site was not a priority and SSD was on their own when it came to finding a site. Despite the fact, may I add, that when asked outright, our Morinville Town Council rep assured government officials (in attendance at our Value Scoping) that if Morinville was granted a new public school announcement, the town would find the land for it.
On June 2nd, 2015, SSD received correspondence from the Deputy Minister of Education stating that if a school site was not secured by June 26th, 2015, the planning dollars would be suspended. Faced with the same apathy from the town on the matter, SSD was forced to scramble to come up with a solution for a buildable site. They managed to come up with a compromising, but workable plan to build on SSD’s own land, coupled with the requested allotment of 9 acres of adjacent town land. They presented the plan to town council an awaited their decision, to come at the June 23rd council meeting. Council did pass the motion, at the end of a lengthy roundabout discussion… but they only granted 3 acres of town land to build the school.
Now note this, municipalities are required by law to provide serviced lands for new school construction, and in the case of a Jr. high / high school, the required allotment is to be 15 – 20 acres of ‘build ready’ land. How the town expected a school to be built on just 3 acres of land, and then to later find out that building could only be done on one of those acres, is beyond my reasoning. Nonetheless, SSD pushed ahead with planning, determined to make it all work. The architect was hired, a school design team was assembled, and planning commenced. Our architect was encouraged by the town planning and development coordinator, to ‘think outside the box’. He and his firm did, with 9 different footprint designs, and 9 times they were refused by the town administration. We were at an impasse. There were no more workable solutions, the town administration would not cooperate or collaborate to move forward. Our preliminary architect funding was used up and Alberta Education and Infrastructure did the only thing they could, they deemed the land unsafe and unsuitable and have halted all progress toward planning the new school.
I cannot begin to understand why any municipality would not bend over backwards to have this 25 million dollar gift-of-infrastructure built. With it would bring new residents, families, businesses and developers. I do consider it a gift to our community, one that is also so desperately needed. The bussing of hundreds of Morinville students is the price we are about to pay for it’s delay in 2-3 short years. Everyone is going to wonder how this catastrophe was allowed to happen. It will not be because of the lack of trying by parents, SSD or now even our provincial government. This fight has been parent driven from day one and the sad thing is that no one in our country should have to be fighting to educate our children, especially fighting our own towns. The Town of Morinville Administration’s apathy been made more than clear, not only with the refusal to make a public statement, at any time in the past six years, that they support public education in Morinville, nor with their apparent unwillingness to partake in actively seeking a collaborative solution for a site in the past 14 months.
We parents are tired of fighting, we need resolution, and our kids needed it yesterday.
MPS School Council Chair