Securing future school sites in Okotoks a concern

Education: No land for facilities currently left in town

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 06:00 am

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Foothills School Division will continue talks with the Town of Okotoks in regards to new school sites and there is concern with the lack of appropriate land available.

Foothills School Division (FSD) assistant superintendent (corporate services) Drew Chipman told school trustees at their Jan. 15 board meeting while there is not an immediate need for a new facility, crowded schools will be a reality down the line in light of growth in Okotoks.

“Okotoks is one of the fastest growing communities in the country,” Chipman said. “It is a young community, with a high density of kids.”

However, when it comes to potential school sites in Okotoks, the cupboard is bare.

There is one small municipal reserve site in the Air Ranch community, which is designated for a new francophone school for the crowded Ecolé Beausoleil.

Chipman said the Kindergarten to Grade 9 Westmount School, which opened in the fall of 2012, is already close to capacity. As well, Foothills Composite High School topped the 1,000-student enrolment this year for the first time. Although the school has an official capacity of 1,300 students, Chipman said the figure is not realistic as it includes the large spaces designated for shop classes.

The opening of Westmount School has helped relieve pressure at Big Rock and Dr. Morris Gibson schools as well as Okotoks Junior High School. However, Dr. Morris Gibson School is nearing capacity just 18 months after Westmount School opened.

He said Okotoks’ growth could be expedited due to the Town removing its population cap of 30,000 people in 2012 and its recent motion to annex about 33 quartersections.

Chipman told trustees growth in Okotoks has been slowed due to a lack of water.

He said if the Town’s application for a water pipeline from Calgary or more water licences are issued, the school division has to be ready for the growth.

“We are all troubled by how quickly this can happen,” Chipman said.

He added he doesn’t expect a real crunch at schools to occur for approximately five years.

At present, there is room within Okotoks for growth at the D’Arcy Ranch area and a quarter-section at the Wedderburn land in the northern part of town.

However, no subdivision applications have been made for either area. There would be no municipal reserve on those lands until a subdivision plan is approved. Okotoks trustee Laurie Copland asked if there was anything Alberta Education could do to build a school.

“To me, it is the responsibility of the government — of Alberta Education — to educate the children of Alberta,” she said.

Chipman said the Municipal Government Act is clear — it is up to the municipalities to provide land for schools.

Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools (CRCS) has similar concerns.

CRCS superintendent of schools Scott Morrison admitted it is tough to find school space in Okotoks.

“Securing school sites is a challenge in every community we serve,” Morrison said. “However, Okotoks is the most challenging due to the rapid growth of the community and the limited amount of land set aside for school sites.”

He said, for example, when the present Holy Trinity Academy opened in the spring of 2006, it had to be located in the MD of Foothills because no land was available in Okotoks.

“We certainly hope that annexation plans include a forward thinking approach to ensuring school sites are identified for schools to accommodate the students that arrive as growth occurs,” Morrison said.

CRCS will have a new kindergarten to Grade 6 school in Davisburg in the fall of 2016.

Chipman added Foothills does have a proposed site in Aldersyde, however, with a high school in the south end of town, its preference would be to have a site in north Okotoks. There is also a school site in the proposed Wind Walk development just south of Okotoks.

Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson — a former teacher — said he is fully aware of the need for school sites in town.

“Absolutely, that is why we are trying to move the annexation in place as quick as possible, for every quartersection we have for 10 per cent for municipal reserve,” Robertson said. “We definitely need more MR.”

He said the speed of annexation, which includes land both to the north and south of Okotoks, would depend on negotiations with the MD of Foothills and landowners.

“If the landowner and the MD agrees, it could go very quickly, but if not, there’s a roadblock,” Robertson said.

He said if needed, they could annex in pieces rather than just getting the 33 quartersections in one fell swoop.

“I see it proceeding simultaneously,” Robertson said. “We won’t have the influx of people until we have new land to develop land on. Then we will have the 10 per cent to put the schools on.”

He said the Town continues to have talks with both school boards.

Chipman said the division plans to discuss the school site situation in Okotoks when representatives meet with Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson in February.


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