Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 9, 2005
Edmonton school plan draws fire from Castle Downs MLA
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The modernization of several high schools and the construction of a new academic high school in Terwillegar have become a top priority in the Edmonton Catholic Schools Division's new capital plan.
But a proposed high school in Castle Downs was taken off the priority list because demographic data shows the student population in northwest Edmonton is declining.
The board voted 6-1 April 25 to adopt a new three-year, $86-million plan that includes $35 million for modernizing four existing high schools - St. Francis Xavier, Archbishop O'Leary, Archbishop MacDonald and Louis St. Laurent - and $6.8 million for an academic high school in Terwillegar.
The plan still needs provincial approval before funding for the projects becomes available.
The 400-student academic school in Terwillegar will only take the city's brightest Catholic students in Grades 9 to 12. Students would need an average of 85 per cent to get into the school.
"This is a need that we've always had," said board chair Debbie Engel. "We do want to have good strong Catholic leaders and to do that we need a high academic school. It'll take really great kids that need a challenging environment, (the kind of) kids that are going to find a cure for cancer or (design) a car (that will run) without wasting all the world resources."
Although the academic school was on the board's wish list, it wasn't a number one priority until the City of Edmonton said it wanted to build a recreation centre in conjunction with a high school in Terwillegar, Engel said. "So we thought 'You know what we could probably have a good chance of getting this approved because we have a partnership (with the city).' So we were striking while the iron was hot."
The construction of a 300-student elementary school for $5.08 million in Terwillegar remains on the board capital plan and is slated for 2007-08.
The plan also calls for construction of 32 portable classrooms over the next two years to help meet the province's class size initiative.
The proposed Castle Downs high school, which had been identified as a capital priority for the past three years, was removed from the three-year plan and placed at the bottom of the priority list on the board's 10-year plan.
The move has proven controversial, with Castle Downs Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk launching a petition asking the board to rescind its decision.
Previous capital plans had identified a need for an 800-student, $15-million facility to be built in Castle Downs.
"Castle Downs has never been a number one priority for Edmonton Catholic Schools in the seven years that I have been on the board," said board chair Debbie Engel.
She said the board moved the proposed school further down the list because the projected enrollment of potential high school students in the Castle Downs area has decreased.
"The need just was not there," she said.
A high school in Castle Downs would have a "very negative impact" on Archbishop O'Leary, Archbishop MacDonald and St. Joseph's high schools by drawing students away from them, said superintendent Dale Ripley.
"We don't need a high school in Castle Downs. I can certainly understand why local residents would want to have one that's closer. But those kids are being well served in those three high schools," Ripley said.
"We just don't have the numbers of kids to justify spending $12 or $15 million building a high school like that. I can't look a taxpayer in the eye and say 'We need this' because we don't."
"I can't look a taxpayer in the eye and say 'We need this' because we don't."
- Dale Ripley
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