Room to grow: Edmonton's public school board to debate construction priorities

A new high school for southeast Edmonton tops a list of priorities to be debated by the city’s public school board Tuesday. 

The Edmonton Public Schools’ Board of Trustees will discuss a proposed three-year capital plan: a wish list for new schools it hopes to build and cash for old ones it wants to fix up. Making space for a coming tidal wave of teens has remained a priority that has spilled over from previous years.

“The reality is that we will be out of high school space by 2022 unless we get another high school built,” said board chair Trisha Estabrooks. She said the board has been advocating for more high school spots for years.

Last fall, the division was able to check off a few of its priorities when the province announced funding for a 900 student Kindergarten to Grade 9 school in Keswick, as well as cash for designing the 1,800-student high school in The Meadows — a cluster of neighbourhoods in southeast Edmonton.

Estabrooks hopes to see construction funding for the high school follow in the budget that the province will hand down Thursday. She said the board has raised the pressing issue of space in city high schools with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange several times.

“We bring this priority up every time we meet with her. I know she has heard us loud and clear,” Estabrooks said.  

Edmonton Public School Board chair Trisha Estabrooks. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

A lagging Alberta economy hasn’t stopped enrolment growth: the public division has seen student numbers continue to climb over the past several years, including the current school year which saw 2.9 per cent growth despite oil prices being just half of what they were in 2014. That equates to about an extra 3,000 students per year, according to the report.

Currently, about 105,000 students are enrolled in 213 public schools across the division.

The space challenges have meant an increasing number of students bussing to schools outside their sector.

Though 72 per cent of students go to a school within the sector of the city where they reside, the number of yellow bus riders increased by 4,000 students, or 40 per cent, between 2013 and 2018. Estabrooks said she thinks the student movement is caused by two different factors.

“Number one, because space is so tight, students are having to be bused out. But there’s also a choice element there: some parents in those neighbourhoods are choosing, or their kids are choosing, to attend alternative programs,” she said.

The three-year plan must be approved by the board of trustees for submission to Alberta Education by April 1.

Edmonton Catholic School Board will debate its three-year plan at its meeting on March 17, spokesperson Lori Nagy said Monday.

The board is also at work updating its 10-year plan, which hasn’t been refreshed for five years. When approved, it will also be forwarded to the province to aid in making a case for the school board’s funding requests.

Though a newly-built high school tops the wish list, replacement of neighbourhood schools in Delton and Spruce Avenue follow. All of the proposals for new schools are in suburban neighbourhoods, but the division is also facing mounting demands for renovations and replacement of existing schools.

The division forecasts that if funding from the province remains at its current rate, the value of its deferred maintenance costs will exceed $1 billion by 2027. The proposed 10-year-plan calls for more stable and predictable funding for preventative maintenance to keep existing buildings in better shape.

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