by Tristan Turner
After a lengthy and often emotional debate, Council has decided to go ahead with two new school sites that were both requested by their school boards.
Council passed a bylaw that would transfer to Sturgeon School Division their preferred location adjacent to the current Ray McDonald Sports Centre for a new public middle school (Grades 6-9). The existing arena will be demolished as the new recreation facility east of Town is ready.
Council also directed Administration to draft a letter of support, allocating GSACRD the necessary land for their new elementary school in the Westwinds ASP (west of 100 Street in the empty lot between the railroad tracks and the No Frills grocery store). A subsequent motion was passed to direct Administration to continue to work with Westwinds owner Landrex to make the necessary arrangements on behalf of GSACRD.
Both school boards had recently informed Council about their preference for the sites awarded June 23. The schools are expected to be completed by September of 2017, pending updates following the design process.
Frustration and disappointment towards the province and Sturgeon School Division were common themes in the debate that lead to Council’s decision. Council’s vote came three days ahead of a provincial deadline of June 26 to have sites awarded to release $750,000 in planning dollars from the province. A failure to award the sites may otherwise have caused a delay of years if a site was not chosen.
Deputy Mayor Barry Turner felt that the Town and Council hadn’t yet done all of the work they could have to “really nail down some of the potential.” With the new rec centre going up east of Morinville, Turner said he felt there might have been potential to partner with one or both schools, building them on the Town-owned land. Later in the evening, Turner said he would be willing to “play chicken a little bit” with the province’s June 26th deadline. He felt with a new government and a new Minister of Education, the Town may be given more time to investigate other sites, including the rec facility site.
Ultimately the GSACRD school site motions passed unanimously after Mayor Holmes closed the discussion saying that building a GSACRD school on the rec land would be difficult as GSACRD is not currently permitted to operate schools in Sturgeon County.
When it came to the decision about the public school, the discussion became much more uncertain, with much of Council saying they had not made their mind up until right before the final votes. Councillor Ladouceur said he thought it was a mistake to not partner the middle school with the rec centre, and that in the meantime students could be bussed to schools in Sturgeon County while the process for a partnership was worked out.
Councilor Fitzgerald called Council’s position “awkward” in that they were optimistic for school partnering opportunities with the rec facility but also the immediate need to ensure that public school students have a junior high school to go to in a few years. Fitzgerald said he was “disappointed with the level of politics at play” with the Sturgeon School Division, particularly its chair.
“At the end of the day it is about kids and making sure that our kids get in school,” Fitzgerald said before quickly finishing his statement, nearly holding back tears. The Councillor said he wished the Division’s board had acted more in the spirit of collaboration in this process, but that he had to support the school site to make sure that the school opens on time.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe commended Fitzgerald for his courage in bringing up his disappointment with the process, and echoed his comments.
Throughout the debate, Council expressed the opinion they were not happy with the process and had hoped the Town would be engaged earlier on in the decision-making process.
Some parents and SSD trustees attended the meeting to hear Council’s decision on the new sites.
After passing 1st and 2nd reading with only Councillor Ladouceur and Deputy Mayor Turner voting against the new site, Council voted on whether or not to hold 3rd reading of the Bylaw. A unanimous vote is required to allow Council to do three readings in one night. Councillors Dafoe and Fitzgerald voted against giving 3rd reading at the meeting, meaning the motion would not come back until Aug. 25th, or prior if the mayor called a special meeting.
Most of the left the meeting, perhaps thinking the decision wouldn’t come back before the deadline set by the province.
Councillor Dafoe said his opposing vote was not to delay the decision past the deadline but to give council more time to reflect on an important decision between second and third reading and that he expected a special meeting could be called prior to deadline.
Dafoe agreed to reconsider the motion for third reading and motioned that third reading be tabled until the end of the meeting. When the decision came off the table Council voted 5-2 in favour of proceeding with the SSD / Town arena land for the new public middle school. Councillor’s Turner and Ladouceur opposed the site preferred by the Sturgeon School Division.