Alberta government opts for P3 model for new Edmonton schools

Two new Kindergarten-to-Grade 9 schools promised for Edmonton will be built under a private-public partnership model, the Alberta government announced Tuesday. 

Alberta’s Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda said the P3 approach appears to be a suitable business case for at least five schools.

“Because P3s will bring in private finance, we can build our infrastructure faster and also on budget,” Panda said at the legislature.  

The five are part of the government’s $397 million pledge toward 25 new school projects, announced last Friday. The five locations are:

  • K-9 Catholic school and K-9 public school both in Windemere-Keswick
  • K-4 public school in Calgary, Auburn Bay          
  • K-9 Catholic school in Cochrane
  • K-9  Francophone school in Legal, north of Edmonton

Panda said the government will be reviewing the other 20 projects to determine whether a P3 model is appropriate for those.

Under the P3 model, a significant amount of financing and construction risk is placed on the private contractor.

The use of P3s has been controversial. The model has been criticized for relying on the private sector to build public institutions. The approach has been rejected by other governments. 

Sarah Hoffman, the NDP’s education critic, said previous P3 projects had construction problems that the boards weren’t allowed to rectify.  

“There were giant trenches in schoolyards that the contractors failed to fix and the board wasn’t allowed to because it wasn’t their property or their assets,” Hoffman said Tuesday. “So I have deep concerns about this continued effort to privatize things so crucial as health and education.”

Panda said the models aren’t that different. 

“We face those problems in any type of construction, not just P3s,” Panda said. 

The PC government in 2014 rejected the P3 formula for building 19 schools after finding a contractor that would cost $14-million less. 

‘We will work with this government’

Trisha Estabrooks, chair of Edmonton Public Schools, said the board just found out about the decision Tuesday when the government sent out a news release. 

“They did indicate that this was a preferred way to build infrastructure in our province, so I’m not surprised,” she said. “We did just learn of it today.” 

In May this year, Premier Jason Kenney said the government would take an aggressive approach to pursuing more P3 projects. 

Estabrooks said the end goal is to get the schools built, especially in south parts of the city like Windermere. 

“We will work with this government,” she said. “We’re keen to be partners in this process with this government and so this is the model that they’ve chosen and this is what we’ll have to go with.”

Laura Thibert, chair of Edmonton Catholic School board of trustees, said she’s hoping the government will review past P3 projects.

“To to able to make sure that it’s the best possible built school for our kids, and that allows some flexibility as well,” Thibert said. 

Thibert said existing schools in Windermere are over capacity, noting that the neighbourhoods are still growing.  

“There’s going to be a huge need for a school in that area, and that’s why it’s been number one on our capital plan for the past year for sure,”  Thibert said.

Money to design a high school for Heritage Valley, announced Friday, is also needed, she noted. 

The government said it will work with school jurisdictions throughout the process but didn’t give a specific timeline on when construction would start. 

It said after developing a business case, it would focus on design and planning of the five schools. 

Alberta used P3s to build 40 schools and ring roads in Calgary and Edmonton. 

Edmonton’s Valley Line southeast LRT from Mill Woods to downtown is also a P3 project but Mayor Don Iveson has said the west portion of the Valley Line will not be a P3.

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