Progress resumes on new Public School in Morinville

by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

Despite experiencing a five-month delay, the new Public School project in Morinville is once again making progress and is moving full-steam ahead.

“[The Design Team] reconvened in early July,” explained Sturgeon School Division (SSD) Superintendent, Dr. Michele Dick, in a Sept. 22 interview. “We’ve had several meetings over the summer, and a couple in September already. We have a few more coming up in October too.”

Membership of the Design Team includes staff from Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure, SSD Senior Administration and Board Members, representation from the Town of Morinville’s Administration, and a Project Architect and Project Manager.

Misty Featherley, SSD’s School Board Trustee representing Morinville, indicated in a statement to the Morinville News, families will also get an opportunity to provide input into the project once the Architect has completed their preliminary design work.

Dick said previously drafted plans (those prepared before the project was put on hold) and stakeholder feedback, as well as considerations regarding the school’s new plot of land, is all being studied by the Architect at the moment.

In February, the new school project, which is being managed by Alberta Infrastructure, was put on hold while the Town of Morinville and SSD hashed out issues related to the appropriateness of the original school site awarded to the Division. That land was deemed unsuitable by the Design Team and was later scrapped by the Town.

The new site was announced in June after Morinville was approached by a developer who offered to create a new school property earlier than they otherwise would have, to help out with the issue.

According to Dick, some work that was done by the Design Team before the project was halted will still apply to the school in its new location, “we don’t have to start from square one,” she said. Featherley said she is also pleased with this, noting, “from my perspective, things are going well, and we are happy to be moving forward.”

There remain, however, some uncertainties at this point in the project. Timelines are a bit hazy, and specifics have not yet been nailed down around things like classroom numbers and other elements regarding layout. What is known at this point about the school, which will house students from grades five-to-nine, is that capacity will be about 600 kids.

Also known: there is enough space on the land to accommodate a second phase of the school at a later date, which will include grades ten through 12 (and will equate to another 400 students in the school).

“There will be easy access to the school from Grandin Drive,” declared Dick, who said the Architect has determined where on the property the school should sit.

The land, which is not yet in SSD’s name, also needs to undergo some evaluations, such as a geotechnical report and Traffic Impact Assessment.

Dick said while other parties are doing those things, the Design Team will continue to move forward with drafting plans. The Architect, for example, will prepare some rough conceptual drawings of the building, which will be tested against strict guidelines established by Alberta Education.

From there, she said, parents, students, and teachers will be invited to attend an open house and see what is being proposed by the Design Team, and to provide their feedback. After that, finalized drawings are prepared by the Architect and then the project goes to tender. The Superintendent estimated tendering could potentially happen in Spring 2017.

Dick said, “we’re going to take a good look at timelines at our next [Design Team] meeting.” She also said she is still hopeful the school will have a completion date of September 2018.

Though she is careful to add, however, “as with any construction project, there can always be unforeseen delays.”

Further delays are something SSD is no doubt hoping will not occur again during this project’s timeline, since the popularity of Morinville Public School (MPS)—currently the only option for public school in Morinville—continues to grow at a rapid speed.

According to MPS Principal, Wayne Rufiange, the student population is currently 800 strong, which is an increase of more than 100 students from the same time last year (reflecting a 15% increase). When the school began operations only five years ago, the student population was about 40.

The school has been forced to install new modular classrooms year-after-year to accommodate that growth; it’s come to the point where the building is now more modular than actual brick and mortar.

Last year, MPS received eight new modular classrooms and, according to the SSD Superintendent, next year may also follow suit.

Though the new modulars still need to be officially approved by the Provincial Government, Dick said the Division is planning for them, should they be required. “The Town has verbally indicated it will approve more [modulars] on the MPS site,” she said, adding it is a comforting feeling to know Morinville is committed to keeping public school students in town.

At this point, it appears as though MPS will remain a preschool to grade nine school only.

“The staff [is managing] the surge of students quite well,” asserts the Principal, though he acknowledges the swell in new students does present challenges, such as getting to know new children and families. He credits his staff, however, with being flexible and adaptable, saying, “everyone does their part to make things work. The most difficult part is planning as it can be a challenge to predict how many students we are going to have each year.”

Rufiange says once construction of the new school begins, MPS will look at devising a plan on how it will transition a large portion of its student population into the new school.

The closest public High School to the Town of Morinville is Sturgeon Composite High school, located in the Hamlet of Namao. Sturgeon Composite is currently undergoing an (approx.) $30M modernization, which is scheduled to be complete by the end of this school year.

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