Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 12, 2001
Sherwood Park to get new school
Joint project to include public school, community centre
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
EDMONTON — Persistence has finally paid off for the Elk Island Catholic school division.
After years of housing too many students in portables and overcrowded schools, the board received word Jan. 25 that Alberta Infrastructure will fund a new school in Sherwood Park.
That news has board chair Ken Lesniak "elated."
"For me it's kind of a dream come true. We worked really hard and put our thinking caps on to come up with an idea that would be futuristic — that would meet the needs of our particular community here and serve our children well."
But there's a twist to the story. What the government actually approved was a multi-campus facility, housing both a Catholic and a public school, as well as a community centre under the auspices of Alberta Children's Services.
"This is not a shared school, and I want to emphasize that," Lesniak said. "We are not building one school with a shared administration. They are separate facilities in the delivery of education."
The new facility will be more like recent facilities built in Sylvan Lake and Grande Prairie, he said, where public and separate schools are built in conjunction with another facility, such as a recreation centre.
What's good about that kind of arrangement is that they place the school in the midst of the community, Lesniak noted.
"Schools historically have been the heart of the community, and we have moved away from that in recent years," he said.
The partnership between both school divisions and Alberta Children's Services is an added bonus, he added. "The excitement of this project is that nowhere else in the province has there been a facility totally focused on serving children."
Still, Lesniak is sensitive to the Catholic community's wariness about joint facilities. With that in mind, he took the unusual step of writing to the chair of each Catholic district in the province, while the Elk Island project was still in the planning stages, to let them know what the board was planning.
The Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association (ACSTA), which has taken a firm stand against public and separate schools sharing facilities, has also been kept fully appraised of Elk Island's plans, he said.
"We are fully cognizant of the terms and conditions ACSTA has put on the table in terms of a project of this nature, and I believe we meet them all."
And, while there was no formal process of public consultation in Sherwood Park, the community there was aware of every step in the development of the proposal, Lesniak said. So far, "the only comments I've had are those of congratulations and excitement."
Still, some questions remain. Both the public and separate Elk Island divisions are well above the 85 per cent utilization rate set by Alberta Infrastructure as one of the qualifications for a new school. Catholic schools in Sherwood Park itself are more than 100 per cent utilized, and the division has used all the space available for portables.
But despite the numbers, and although the Catholic board had been requesting a school for about five years, it could not gain approval until it joined forces with the public district a year and a half ago.
The timing of the announcement, too, has led to speculation about whether approval of the project was tied to the fact that it is situated in the riding of Children's Services Minister Iris Evans, and a provincial election is expected to be called shortly.
Lesniak dismissed that idea.
"The decision for approval occurred because we met every term and condition for new school appraisals. We made sure we had all our ducks in a row.
"I am confident that we would have received approval (even if it had not been in Evans' riding)."
Although a date has not yet been set for the opening of the new school, Lesniak said the board will proceed as quickly as possible, to try and alleviate the division's accommodation problems.
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