Young families flocking to community

Okotoks: About 25% of population under 15 years old

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 06, 2012 11:23 am

New Okotoks resident Danie Van Oosten pushed her son Daniel on a swing in Sheep River Park last week. Federal census data shows Okotoks continues to be popular to young families.
New Okotoks resident Danie Van Oosten pushed her son Daniel on a swing in Sheep River Park last week. Federal census data shows Okotoks continues to be popular to young families.
Don Patterson/OWW

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Okotoks schools are full, playgrounds are busy and sports teams are growing due to the town’s popularity to young families.

Data from the 2011 census released last week shows Okotoks is a young community attracting scores of young families, but it is also slowly seeing more retirement age residents.

According to census data released last week, one-quarter of Okotoks’ population (24.8 per cent) is under the age of 15 and the median age in town is 34. According to the census, Okotoks’ total population was 24,511.

New Okotokian Danie Van Oosten said it’s a good community for families and children. She said the town has all the basic amenities and services people need.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I love the paths and all the parks we find.”

Van Oosten moved to Okotoks with her son Daniel from Manitoba in the last month because she heard good things about the town.

Okotoks resident Gord Thomas agreed Okotoks has everything a family needs, such as parks, good schools and shopping.

“It’s pretty here, everything is here, you don’t have to go to Calgary for anything,” he said.

Thomas and his wife moved to Okotoks from Mackenzie Towne in southeast Calgary two-and-a-half years ago to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Thomas family is not alone as numerous people, a majority with young children, have sought Okotoks’ amenities and small town lifestyle.

The Foothills School Division has felt the pressure of the young community for much of the past decade.

The division has seen growth rates at its schools between three and eight per cent in the last seven years, particularly in the Kindergarten to Grade 9 ages. At one point, the pressures were so great teachers’ lounges were turned into classrooms.

Things have improved since then, said Drew Chipman, Foothills School Division deputy superintendent of corporate services.

“It is some pressure and we’ve been able to get modular classrooms from the Province to deal with some of those issues,” he said of the growth. “We’ve worked with our staff to make sure we’re offering the best type of program we can for our kids.”

In the past five years, the division has opened Heritage Heights School east of Okotoks and Westmount School will open in Okotoks in the fall.

Chipman said the division is also working with Alberta Education to open another school in Okotoks.

He said the division is consulting with Stantec Engineering to study how to continue to manage growth pressures in the future.

“We’ve asked them to do some work for us, we should be getting that report next month,” said Chipman. “What they’re doing is showing us where we can expect growth.”

The Christ the Redeemer School division is also facing a similar space crunch in its Okotoks schools. St. Mary’s and Good Shepherd schools were both approved for two more portables. The division’s top priority is for a school in the Heritage Heights area.

Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said the census results show the Town needs to ensure amenities and services like the Regional Field House are in place for families.

“Knowing we have a very young population, we’re planning for casual youth activities and we’re constantly trying to tweak what appeals to them – whether it be the youth centre or trying to find out what would increase the use of those things,” said Robertson.

On the other hand, Robertson said the Town cannot neglect its seniors either as their population is increasing as well.

Census data shows 7.4 per cent of the Town’s population is 65 and older, up from 5.6 per cent of the Town’s population is 65 and older. He said a number of different issues need to considered for seniors such as accessibility to amenities and programs, housing and municipal service levels. The aging population also shows how important it is to increase the number of doctors in the community, he said.

Lauren Ingalls, CAO of the Foothills Foundation, which operates seniors housing facilities, said Okotoks is an attractive place to retire and the Town can expect to see more seniors because of the available services. She said local programs and services are available and the South Calgary Hospital is close by.

“It makes Okotoks a lovely, small community that’s close to all the big city amenities and makes it attractive,” she said.

Ingalls said there is a high demand for rooms at the Sandstone Lodge seniors complex in Okotoks and there have been a number of seniors residential facilities built between 2006 and 2011 that have attracted seniors to Okotoks.

Ingalls said the Town needs to be aware of the growing senior population as it plans for the future. She said health care, transportation, recreation programs and options to age in place will all be important for the growing senior population. Issues such as home care, single-storey homes and even private lawn care are important to allow seniors to remain in their own homes as they age.


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