by Colin Smith
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen wants area residents to know that the province is truly committed to building a new public school in Morinville.
This was the point stressed by the Minister after he came out of a Feb. 17 meeting with representatives of the Town of Morinville and Sturgeon School Division in regards to the planned Public Junior High School.
“We want to reassure in the Morinville area that this school will be built, and the monies are available to move forward in in the most expeditious way,” Eggen stated.
He said that with Morinville growing very rapidly, the interests of children need to be put first and foremost.
“So we are making sure we have school spaces available in the next weeks and months and to get the new school built in a very expeditious way.”
A budget of $25 million has been set for the school, which will require 2½ years for completion once construction begins.
The Minister described the meeting attended by Mayor Lisa Holmes and councillors, Sturgeon School Division Superintendent Michèle Dick, and Board Chair Tracy Nowak as “very productive.”
The meeting was called after an impasse developed over the site offered by the Town for the school. Recently the School Division declared the site unsuitable because of road access and safety concerns, while Morinville officials assert no other site is available.
As a result the planning process has been suspended.
“We had a number of suggestions from the municipality and the school board on how to overcome some of the roadblocks,” Eggen said.
The Minister added he would be speaking with colleagues in the Municipal Affairs and Infrastructure departments about possible ways to move forward.
Following the original timeline, the project was to have been completed in time for the 2017-18 school year. That is no longer possible, but Eggen said he wants it done as soon as possible.
“The money is there, and it’s not going anywhere,” he declared. “It takes about 2½ years to get this job done. If we can start working on it straightaway that would be great, depending on the resolution of the access.”
Eggen added, “We need to make sure schools are being built to meet the needs of the growing population of students in our province.”
Superintendent Dick said she was very encouraged by the meeting.
“The minister was very encouraging,” she stated. “He reaffirmed commitment to a new public school in Morinville and commitment to funding.”
Having all players around the table to have a look at the possibilities to and see what the constraints are is a good thing she noted.
“I believe there is good will. I believe there needs to be good will. I believe we have to put students at centre of the discussion.”
Dick said the aim is to work collectively to identify the right site and to see the school open in 2018-19.
“I certainly believe the minister was committed to that.”
There was also a necessary focus on the shorter term for Morinville Public School, she pointed out.
“What happens in the 2017-18 school year? How are we going to meet student needs? We are going to be looking at a lot of different options.”
One specific question is whether there will be room for more modular units. On that, Dick said the School Division is waiting for feedback from the Town.
Mayor Lisa Holmes said in a Town of Morinville statement that she felt the meeting was very productive.
“We continue to be committed to working together in order to ensure this project moves forward,” Holmes stated.
Morinville and Sturgeon School Division have arranged a meeting for Feb. 23.