Sturgeon School Division discusses school delay

by Lucie Roy

Morinville Public’s junior high was one of the topics at the Sturgeon School Division Committee of the Whole Feb. 11. The board discussed the project’s current status, discussions with Morinville Town Council, the idea of a temporary school, and preferred alternate locations.

Chair Tracy Nowak said the project was at a standstill and that Town Council had reached out to David Eggen, Minister of Education. She and Superintendent Michele Dick were invited, and will be attending the meeting.

“My hope would be that a solution would be found and that we can get started on building our school,” Nowak said later in the meeting. “There is pressure there.”

Superintendent Dick echoed the sentiments. “We are all in this together,” she said. “I think everybody wants the same thing, but my perspective which is a state of the art school, for the students here in Morinville and we have to get it right. From my perspective, I think we are all committed to getting it right and, at this moment in time, I don’t know that any of us know what right exactly looks like. But I certainly hear that everybody is committed to that undertaking.”

Nowak touched on the package of correspondence Council presented to the public at their Feb. 9 meeting, outlining the Town’s perspective on the project’s timeline to date. The SSD Board Chair said she agreed a huge amount of work had been done, and indicated SSD had done similar work as well.

“Our understanding is that the government is the funder and the project managers of this project, and we are the client, and the municipality is required to provide and procure, prepare and make ready a site,” Nowak said. “We have also been told that the government will not intervene. We understand there is a problem in town. We understand that of the sites readily available [this is the one] which is serviced. We understand the huge cost implications. We are at a point where we are challenged to find a solution that meets everyone’s requirements.”

Where will students go?

Superintendent Dr. Michele Dick said eight modulars and one washroom unit would be added to the Morinville Public School site for the 2016-2017 school year and that the Division was working with Morinville’s Planning and Development Department on it.

Status on further modulars for 2017-2018 are not known at this time.
“We have not received any further information with respect to that particular question, so we are not exactly sure at this point in time what status that would be,” Dick said.

The Superintendent said she is proactively looking at schools in the surrounding communities to see what capacity would be, what utilization is, and preparing a report for the Board of Trustees for the end of the school year in June. Dick said she was also examining some of the Division’s options and other opportunities for placing students.
The Superintendent said they had to be creative in some ways because they understand parents are not amiable to have students bussed out of the Town of Morinville.

The Division is projecting somewhere in the range of 825 students for the 2016-2017 and have asked Principal Wayne Rufiange to look at the school year 2017-18. Rough estimates indicate 2017-2018 could have 950 students, 134 students more than the capacity of the school with the additional modulars.

Temporary School rejected

Mayor Lisa Holmes notion of a temporary school was rejected during the question and answer portion of the meeting.

“Of course providing education and the associated infrastructure is the work of a school board and we are always interested in input from the community,” Dick said. “And so a temporary school is something that is a piece of input, that comes forward naturally. We will be taking a look at that along with everything else. Is it something that is on the table right now, though? It is not something our parents expressed interest in,- absolutely not.”

Dick went on to say it is commonly accepted the “Town takes good care of Town facilities as they appropriately should, and the school divisions take good care of educational infrastructure as we appropriately should.”

Morinville Public School Trustee Misty Featherley was more direct on her thoughts on the idea of a temporary school. “The parents are absolutely against it,” she said. “They feel that it would be a temporary solution that could lead to longer term solution, and that is not what they are looking for. So they have asked me to absolutely, in representing them, say that they are not in agreement with this.”

Uncertainty on remaining planning dollars

Nowak said she was told the portion of the $750,000 the government awarded to plan the school was used. “All I was told was that the portion for the architect work on design has been spent,” she said. “I did not hear that full $750,000 has been spent. Again, I don’t know how the government doles that out.”

Superintendent Dick said a portion of the $750, 000 was for meetings, a portion was used for some initial engagement, and the architect has done a few conceptual drawings as he was helping the Board understand how a school would or would not fit into the pieces of land behind the arena. “We are at the end of that portion of the $750,000, and – of course – we are significantly delayed because we should now have the architect actually doing the drawings,” Dick said. “But we are not yet at the stage where the architect could begin this more than conceptual drawing that would then come back and be presented to parents for input. So it is that particular portion, and we are not going to eat into the portion that is to pay the architect to actually do his job to sit down and do the design.”

South Glens or rec land preferred

Nowak mentioned South Glens, Westwinds, and multi-plex land as alternatives to the arena lands off of 104 Street, but it is South Glens or the new rec land that she prefers.

“If there was a possibility of looking at South Glens site and having it serviced, that would be desirable,” she said. “Or if there was any opportunity – and the Board has on numerous occasions expressed an interest in partnering in multi-plex site – but again the timelines wouldn’t allow that. The uncertainty and that is why we are at where we are. We are trying to make something happen. Are we hoping for consideration? Absolutely. I am not aware of anything else.”

In a letter to the editor from the Town sent to media Feb. 11, Mayor Lisa Holmes said, “The Town was actively pursuing a partnership with the Government of Alberta on the new Recreation Project lands until SSD made the decision that they wanted the current arena property in a letter dated February 20, 2015.”

A meeting between Minister David Eggen, Council and SSD Board Chair and Superintendent is set for Feb. 17. A joint Council and SSD Board meeting is planned for some point following that meeting.

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  1. Instead of bringing more modulars in, maybe the SSD should explore the option of renovating and re-purposing the existing Sturgeon County office that is for sale just south of Morinville. It would requiring bussing for a short distance and possibly a gymnasium added, but it might suffice for grades 7-9 until land within Morinville can be secured for construction of a new school.

  2. I am curious how many parents outside the parent council outright object to the notion of a temporary school. I am a parent with a child in the public school, and my family is facing uncertainty like everyone else. I would definitely support a temporary school over busing my child out of the community. If other parents share this perspective, its time they start speaking up.

    We live in an outrageously prosperous part of the world, and we need to consider how lucky we are to be in a position to be picky about the perfect location for a ‘state of the art’ school. I would rather have my child well educated in a humble building in my town than to have her shipped off to some out-of-town school because the SSD was too preoccupied trying to build a monument to itself, and snubbing an opportunity to make a practical solution happen locally.

    Education is about the children – this parent says get over yourselves SSD, and build the school already. You’ve been given the best option available under the circumstances, which we all understand are not ideal. Get on with fulfilling your obligations to our children. Be inspired by the imagination our children have in abundance to work out a way to make a great school in spite of the limitations – what a monument to ingenuity and creative problem solving that would be. What an example to offer to our children about gratitude and making the best with what life offers.

    • “this parent says get over yourselves SSD, and build the school already.”

      I think you are missing a key point in the messaging from SSD and to a certain extent the AB Gov. SSD is the Customer, the AB Gov and the Town need to figure a solution out here. Until those two come to an agreement, the “Customer” has no say over when they can “build the school already.”

      I’ve seen and read enough over the last few weeks to know who I personally think is at fault here…. Council needs to realize that “perception is reality” in the world of politics. Quit issuing terse responses via the media and find a way to get this done with the Province.

      • The government provides the funding for the actual school building, as you correctly point out. The Town’s only responsibilities are to provide a site that is appropriately zoned and serviced, and to act as the approving authority once permits to build are requested.

        Based on the available information, it appears the Town has fulfilled its first obligation to provide a serviced site. Is the site perfect? Absolutely not. Does the Town have better sites it’s not offering up? Nope.

        The only other sites within the Town’s municipal boundary/jurisdiction that have been identified for future schools are owned by private developers, and the Town cannot make private landowners develop land they don’t want to. (Keep in mind the future rec facility site is located in the County and is outside the Town’s jurisdiction. In other words, the Town cannot assign land for a school site outside its municipal boundary.)

        I’m not pulling this stuff out of thin air by the way, it’s all here for anyone to read:

        The SSD’s is the customer, without doubt, but it also has a responsibility in this process; it is not a passive bystander. The SSD’s responsibility is to work with an architect to develop a suitable site layout/building design within the budget allotted by the Province for this purpose on the site the Town has provided.

        The government allows school boards to manage the design process as only they know what will best work for its district and its students. And this is where my comment comes in. Failure to find a way to make a design work on the only available site, even if that means a temporary school until some of the restrictions are removed or not having the ‘dream school’, is ultimately a failure to get the school built, as construction cannot take place until the school is designed.

  3. You know, you could have saved alot of money by getting your drawings from an existing design. Why try reinventing the wheel? Stop making something simple into something complicated.

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