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Province designates no funds for Cochrane schools in Budget 2021 capital funding

Bow Valley High School, the top priority of Rocky View Schools' capital projects, was not among those who will receive government funding for much-needed renovations this year.

COCHRANE— Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced 14 new school infrastructure projects for the province from Edmonton on Wednesday (March 10).

The province will be investing in new schools in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Camrose and Manning, and will be investing in the modernization of schools in Airdrie, Calgary, Fort Vermillion, Red Deer, Coaldale, Sherwood Park, Evansburg and Milk River.

Among the 14 projects announced by the province, Rocky View School District did not get a single project it had requested approved.

The total capital investment by the Alberta government is roughly $2.1 billion over the next three years, which includes new schools, maintenance to existing schools, continued work on existing projects and expansions to the modular classroom program.

Those investments will lead to roughly 8,200 new learning spaces, LaGrange said.

“We know that those communities are very excited. When my department determines which schools need to move forward on the priority list and be addressed, as you know every school authority and every school division has a capital plan, a three-year capital plan, and often they put forward their first, second and third requests, so we get hundreds of requests every year for new facilities— When they look at that there are a number of factors that determine whether it’s a health and safety issue, whether it’s an enrolment issue, whether it’s a legal issue,” LaGrange said.

The schools which were chosen, she continued, all met that criteria.

Infrastructure minister Prasad Panda noted, although some communities will be disappointed that they did not receive funding this year, the investments are an important part of Alberta’s economic recovery.

“While I understand that some communities might be disappointed, they don’t have a school project on the list this year, I would like to encourage you to consider the bigger picture. That is the Alberta government’s 2021 capital plan is investing 1.6 billion dollars in total to support school infrastructure projects as part of Alberta’s big recovery plan,” Panda said.

Panda’s sentiments did not ease the sting for Rocky View Schools, which has been eyeing an expansion of Bow Valley High School for several years.

Board chair of Rocky View Schools Fiona Gilbert said the board was “shocked and disappointed,” by the decision which will impact both the students within the school district and community of Cochrane.

Rocky View Schools is one of the fastest-growing school districts in Alberta. Of the list of priorities submitted to the government by the district, not a single project was chosen to receive funding this year.

At the top of that list is the expansion of Bow Valley High School, which currently sits at 101 per cent capacity.

 “We’re very disappointed that the need in Cochrane was not recognized by the government. It is critical that governments continue to provide funding for new schools to keep pace with our growth. Bow Valley High School, as of today, is at 100 per cent capacity,” she said. “We know even with the addition it would take a couple of years to have it built.”

Gilbert noted Bow Valley High School is projected to be at 125 per cent capacity in four years’ time.

The project has been on the books at Rocky View Schools for a long time, Gilbert said, and has been the district’s top priority for a few years.

“Bow Valley High was built about 20 years ago, and at that time it was built only as half a school. We knew at that point that we would need further development there,” she said. “It’s been at the top of our capital plan as our top priority for two or three years now.”

Gilbert said Rocky View Schools will continue to advocate for its student’s needs despite the disappointing news.

“We’re going to have to review the details of the announcement and see how that impacts Rocky View Schools and continue to work with government to address the space needs for our students,” she said.

Gilbert noted the government has yet to announce its plans for modular additions to schools in the province and hopes that Cochrane will be among the communities slated to receive funding.

The Alberta government’s capital plan includes a $90 million investment into modular learning spaces this year, and $140 million over the next three years.

“That’s one way we can address some of the needs on a short-term basis,” Gilbert said. “Next year, for September when we’re at 108 per cent capacity, if we put some classroom space on one of the fields then at least kids have a place to go to school, but it’s absolutely not ideal.”

The continued investment into schools and learning spaces is key in providing kids with the spaces necessary to create a good learning environment, Gilbert said. Although the school board is surprised and disappointed that Rocky View was left out of this round of funding, she hopes to see the continued investment into Alberta’s students.

“We need to continue to invest in the infrastructure for these kids so that they have an appropriate place to go to school. Pushing into a gym or squishing into those spaces— It’s not an appropriate place for kids to be educated.”

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie provided a statement to The Eagle in which he said he understands the urgency of the situation for students in Cochrane.

"I have been very vocal about the need for additional student capacity in our constituency and I will continue to advocate for the Bow Valley High School expansion project. There are many deserving projects throughout the province and, through the gated-approval process, the Ministry is making difficult decisions. As Cochrane continues to be one of the fastest-growing communities in Alberta, the need for additional spaces is imperative. I will continue my contact with the Minister and her office to ensure that our needs are fully understood and considered for future funding opportunities," the statement read.