Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 8, 1999
Newer areas wait for schools
While inner city fights to protect its schools, newer areas feel short-changed
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Newer areas wait for schools
While parents in central Edmonton worry about their Catholic schools being closed, parents in newer areas of the city wait for theirs to be built.
Ingrid Frigon, co-chair of the Blessed Kateri school council in southeast Edmonton, says a new school for the area east of 34 Street (The Meadows) has been in the plans for a long time.
In fact, the Educational Facilities Master Plan released by the Edmonton Catholic school board on Feb. 16 recommends a primary school be built with a capacity of 225 students.
But Frigon isn't holding her breath. With Alberta Education indicating no new capital projects will be funded unless the overall district utilization rate reaches 85 per cent, a new school could be a long time coming. Edmonton's utilization rate is currently about 65 per cent.
"Whether it's under-utilization or over-utilization, it's a problem," Frigon says. Almost half of the 700 students at Blessed Kateri (capacity: 725 students) are housed in the school's 15 portables which create a minor maze on the outside of the school.
Enrollment at the school has doubled since it was opened in 1991 and is expected to increase another six per cent in the next three years.
Good Shepherd School in west Edmonton is expected to be at 117 per cent utilization by 2007, and St. Anne in the northeast should reach 111 per cent. In fact, of the 82 schools in the city, 40 are projected to reach or exceed 85 per cent utilization by the year 2007.
But the uneven distribution of students leaves the Catholic school board facing some difficult decisions.
The central area of the city, from Yellowhead Trail in the north to 63 Avenue in the south, and between 50 Street and 142 Street, holds more than a quarter of the city's schools. The projected utilization rate averages 44 per cent.
Outside that core area, utilization rates average 68 per cent in the northwest, 79 per cent in the northeast, 75 per cent in the southeast, and 73 per cent in the southwest.
The master plan recommends closing four schools, all within central Edmonton, partially closing another five, relocating portables, and reducing student capacity at nine schools through modernization projects.
A subsequent Facilities Utilization Review prepared for the board outlines options such as:
. Setting up a satellite campus for overcrowded high schools in underused elementary or junior highs.
. Restructuring some
elementary, junior, and senior high allocations.
. Developing community-based, multi-use facilities at St. Michael and Sacred Heart schools in collaboration with various agencies.
It singles out St. Andrew School for closure, due to low enrollment and the poor condition of the building.
Both reports, along with input from principals and school councils, will be used by the board to make its final decision.
Teresa Kos and Patricia Coe are eagerly awaiting that decision. The co-chairs of the Louis St. Laurent school council say there is a great deal of frustration at the school level because of a lack of funds to upgrade buildings and expand programs.
"This is crisis management, not long-term planning," Kos says. She claims that the cost of maintaining under-utilized buildings in need of major repair is having a negative impact on the education all students receive.
Amalgamating programs and closing schools would benefit the entire system by cutting maintenance costs, Coe agrees.
"We have insufficient funds to repair and modernize buildings. We don't even have sufficient funds to maintain the buildings," Coe says. "The board needs to look at the greater good of the Catholic community."
If the board were to act on all the recommendations of the master plan, the district utilization rate could reach 72 or 73 per cent.
It's not the 85 per cent they need, but "it's a significant rise . . . and it's an important first step," Coe says, because it shows fiscal responsibility.
"And who knows, maybe the numbers will rise to 85 per cent. It's an unknown right now."
"It's a difficult thing to look at the overall system and make decisions," Frigon admits. "It would be easier to look at what would be most beneficial for each area."
"But the time of abundant funds for capital projects is gone. Let me put it this way: If I had a house and I found that only 65 per cent of it was being used, I would look at making some changes."
But the board has more to consider than just the information presented in the two reports, Frigon adds.
"There is nothing there about the effect on the community. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done with schools and with communities."
All three women agree that the key is for parents to get the information they need to be able to discuss the issues and look at options.
"The board has been really good in asking for feedback," Frigon says, adding that parents have a responsibility to provide trustees with as much input as possible.
"But in the end, they are the ones who will have to make the difficult decisions."