Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 19, 2000
School district mixes studies with groceries
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Edmonton's Catholic school board is hoping a combined high school-grocery store project is novel enough to qualify for funding through the government's Innovation Fund.
If so, west end residents could see a new high school and IGA store open at 178th Street and 69th Avenue by September 2003.
It would be the first time in Alberta that a publicly-funded school and private company have shared a joint facility.
And while it may sound like an odd partnership, Ward 1 trustee Debbie Engel calls it "an ideal mix."
"There will always be a need for a school and there will always be a need for a grocery store in the community. It's a way to really bring people into the community.
"I'm very excited about this project."
Being designated as an "innovative school facility project" is Edmonton's only chance of accessing any government funds to build a new school. The district's overall utilization rate
remains below the government-mandated 85 per cent, although certain areas of the city are overcrowded.
That's why a new school for the west end wasn't identified as a high priority in Edmonton's master facilities plan, says Garnet McKee, deputy director of business services.
But the opportunity to partner with Sobeys, owners of IGA, presented itself and the board is acting on it.
"It came about by knowing what's happening in the marketplace," McKee says. "We knew this was a prime location, and over the years we've had a number of developers approach us about listing the site, but we held on to it because we felt there was a need for a Catholic school there."
Because of the district's dealings with Sobeys through partnerships with various schools, they knew the company was interested in building an IGA store west of 170th Street.
The new site would place the store directly north of the Callingwood Safeway store and next to the Jamie Platz YMCA and Callingwood Recreation Centre.
The store would occupy approximately 45,000 square feet, while the school would take up about 110,000, enough to house 800 to 900 students, McKee says. The district is proposing that Sobeys lease the land on a long-term basis, putting some of the money up front to cover construction costs.
"This is truly innovative," Engel says, compared to most proposals which call for building a joint Catholic and public school facility. The Edmonton Catholic board rejected a proposal to build such a facility in Twin Brooks last year.
"Sharing public and Catholic school facilities is not innovative - we've had the J. Percy Page and Holy Trinity joint use facility for 20 years, and Red Deer has had the same setup for even longer."
She adds that reaction to the proposal from the public has been positive.
"I've talked to literally thousands of people, and there has been no negative reaction.
"The parents have really encouraged us, the community groups have really encouraged us, and we've kept the city informed all the way along."
Pat Davidson, whose children attend Good Shepherd elementary school in the west end, shares Engel's enthusiasm.
"I think it would be a fabulous idea," says Davidson, who had a chance to preview the building plans at an information night May 30.
"The way they've designed the whole layout - yes, the two are connected, but they are two separate entities."
While the Catholic community would receive a major financial benefit from the partnership, Davidson says the project would also benefit the entire community. "We really do need another food outlet here."
She's also pleased with the prospect of students accessing IGA's resources in terms of work experience and business training.
McKee says Sobeys also fulfills the district's desire for a "good responsible corporate partner" for the project.
For now, the district is working with administration at both the municipal and provincial levels to re-zone the site, which currently does not allow for a retail outlet. Once that hurdle is cleared, the board will apply for a grant under the Innovation Fund, hopefully by the fall.
"The details have all been talked about, but nothing is confirmed as yet," Engel acknowledges.
But she says she sees no reason the project wouldn't be approved.
"We still have hurdles to clear, but none of them are insurmountable when we think about getting a Catholic presence in the west end."