Christian school relocating to Foothills

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A faith-based school is one step closer to changing its home and its name as it moves under the umbrella of the Foothills School Division.

Members of Brant Christian School Society decided three years ago to move closer to the Okotoks-High River corridor, since more than 90 per cent of its students live in the MD of Foothills.

Gerald Dijkstra, chairman of the school society, said demand in the Okotoks and High River region, and the residence of the majority of its 130 students, led Brant Christian School to approach Foothills School Division (FSD) and try to find land in the Foothills.

The school division was interested in working with the school and bringing Brant Christian School under its jurisdiction as an alternative program, he said. The division also went to bat for the school in finding reserve land in the MD, he said.

“It didn’t take long,” said Dijkstra. “They showed us a few of the parcels available, and the one outside High River showed up.”

The parcel in question is located on Highway 543 west of High River, at 48 Street East, and an application went before MD council at a public hearing on April 5. Council gave first reading to the land use bylaw.

Dijkstra said the plan is to have FSD take ownership of the land, and the school building will be constructed by Brant Christian School Society after a couple of years of fundraising efforts to raise a projected amount of $6-8 million.

“It’s a huge capital project,” said Dijkstra. “Ultimately our goal is to have Christian education available in the Foothills area at a reasonable cost, so we can’t be carrying a $10 million mortgage.”

The K-12 school – which will become Foothills Christian Academy upon its relocation – will have a capacity of 400 students and a footprint of just under 4,000 square metres as per provincial regulations. He said the school will work in consultation with the school board and area neighbours in designing and constructing the building.

Foothills superintendent John Bailey said locating the school just outside High River is ideal as it is near amenities and developed roads, but still maintains the school’s current feel. It’s also a good building site, he said.

“It still has that country environment the school currently enjoys,” said Bailey. “It’s a very easy-to-develop site, because it’s flat and we don’t have a lot of geography to contend with. All of those things make it an attractive site.”

Once a gravel pit, the land had been reclaimed to its natural state and kept as MD of Foothills municipal reserve for future development. A restrictive covenant was placed on adjacent properties in 2006 to inform future landowners of the MD’s intentions.

“As per the request of council, purchasers should be aware that future development may occur on the site if and when the gravel pit is reclaimed,” said MD of Foothills planning officer Drew Granson. “This caveat remains registered on the adjacent country residential parcels, as well as on the two municipal reserve parcels.”

Though it doesn’t speak specifically to a school, the caveat does indicate development would occur in the future, he said.

Neighbour Dianne Larco and her husband, who live on Charral Circle, contested the application, citing increased traffic and noise, and a potential reduction in land value.

“We really are concerned that this will negatively impact the quality of country residential – specifically peace, quiet, serenity, security,” Larco told council at the hearing. “All of those things are the reason we moved there.”

She said they were never made aware the land was slated for future development when they bought their home four years ago.

“We just kind of look at it as a vacant lot, and we thought probably nothing would ever come of this, but now it kind of makes us quite concerned about what will come of this,” said Larco.

They would have preferred to see the school located on other sites in the MD, such as next to the Baptist Church on Highway 2 east of High River or along Highway 2A near Saddlebrook or the field house, she said.

“We believe that the MD, one of their responsibilities is to us as a current landowner to help us maintain property values and the integrity of the area,” said Larco. “This would definitely end the quiet rural residential atmosphere we enjoy, and we feel really seriously about our property values.”

MD of Foothills Mayor Larry Spilak said he believes building schools not only enhances the services offered in a community, it increases the value of homes in turn.

After Heritage Heights School, St. Francis of Assisi Academy and Scott Seaman Arena were constructed, residents of adjacent Norris Coulee saw their property values rise, he said.

“And it only makes sense,” said Spilak. “Parents who have children who are going to school or playing hockey, it makes it very accessible to them. So yes, I understand for some people it doesn’t mean anything, but for many, many people it does, and that makes their homes more attractive and consequently the prices do increase a it.”

He said it’s important for the MD to be able to offer its residents recreation and education opportunities, and taking municipal reserves from landowners when they develop their properties gives the municipality that ability.

The future Foothills Christian Academy would be the ninth school available in the MD, he said. The municipality also offers Red Deer Lake School, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, Heritage Heights School, St. Francis of Assisi Academy, Edison School, Cayley School, Blackie School and Millarville School.

“I’ve always been a supporter of schools,” said Spilak. “It’s something that’s required to build a community.”

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