Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 5, 2001
Catholic board hopes for new school
Twin Brooks public school buoys hope for separate school
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — Edmonton's Catholic school board is reacting positively to news of government funding for a new public school in Edmonton's Twin Brooks subdivision.
"I believe this shows two things," says board chair Debbie Engel. "One, the government recognizes the needs of growing communities and, two, they are re-thinking the utilization formula."
But the Jan. 25 announcement by Alberta Infrastructure Minister Ed Stelmach of more than $6 million for a new school in the ridings of Justice Minister Dave Hancock fuelled speculation that the timing of the announcement was set to coincide with an expected election call in mid-February.
Residents of Twin Brooks received a flyer from Hancock the evening before the official announcement, saying that the building of a school in the area has been his "number one goal" since being elected in 1997.
"As your representative in government, I want to be the first to tell you this wonderful news."
The announcement has also resurfaced the controversial issue of closing under-utilized schools in older areas of the city to build new ones in growing suburbs.
The provincial government has maintained that no school board will receive funding for a new school unless the utilization rate in its current schools is at or above 85 per cent. Both the Edmonton public and separate school boards are well below that rate.
The Edmonton public school board was repeatedly turned down in its efforts to get funding for a new school in Twin Brooks. In 1999, in hopes of attracting funding, it asked Edmonton Catholic Schools to join it in building a multi-use facility in the neighbourhood.
The Catholic board rejected the first proposal because it included too many common areas, including a gymnasium, library and staff lounge. With students and staff from both the Catholic and public schools sharing the building to that extent, a strong Catholic identity could not be preserved, according to the board.
Now that the public board has pursued a school on its own, and been successful, "the logical question is: where are the Catholic schools?" Engel says.
While the public school district's rate is now around 69 per cent, Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Eileen McDonald says the board received funding for a new school anyway, "in recognition of the board's efforts to reduce surplus school space, and as an incentive to the board to look at further ways of reducing surplus space."
Those efforts consist mainly in the recommendation of a committee of eight school principals to close Alex Taylor and John A. McDougall schools. Both schools, in established areas around downtown Edmonton, have a student population well below their capacity.
The public school board has not yet made the school closures official, saying more public consultation will be needed.
If that's what it takes to get funding from the government, Engel says, the Catholic board should be looking forward to an equally positive response from Alberta Infrastructure when the board submits its capital plan in the spring.
Edmonton Catholic has "gone a lot further than the public board" in terms of looking at reducing surplus space, she says. "We've consulted with communities in every end of the city . . . and we've been looking at this for years."
Currently, the board is awaiting input from parents through an initiative called Project First, before submitting its capital plan. Engel says it's likely program amalgamation and school closures will be two options brought forward by parents.
And if that's the case, the Catholic board should be rewarded in the same way as the public board, she adds.
"We have every confidence that when Alberta Infrastructure sees our capital plan, and the input from parents through Project First, we should position ourselves to hear some good news."
But Engel acknowledges that the board's optimism doesn't necessarily help Catholic families in Twin Brooks right now, who will be faced with the choice of continuing to bus their children to a Catholic school, or enrolling them in the new public school close to home.
"What would I do? I know I would continue to bus them, but that's my situation. It will depend on the parents.
"I really hope that the parents will continue to live with the situation.
It may be inconvenient but they're getting a Catholic education, they're getting that permeation of faith throughout the day, and that's a jewel they can't get in public school."
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