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Council disappointed with government directive

Some Blackfalds councillors are disappointed with the route the provincial government has taken in constructing new schools.

Some Blackfalds councillors are disappointed with the route the provincial government has taken in constructing new schools.

As part of the new school construction process being utilized in Alberta, the Ministry of Education has requested that all school divisions contemplate how they could invite partners into the design and utilization of new educational sites. Called a ‘P3’ (Public-Private Partnership) the underlying premise is that all buildings in Alberta should be capable of serving multiple community functions and designed to allow this functionality to occur for the citizens of the province.

At a Blackfalds town council meeting held earlier this month, Councillor Richard Poole expressed his disappointment that P3 partnerships are the route the government has taken in constructing new schools, such as the one scheduled to be built in Blackfalds for completion in the fall of 2016.

Poole said he has two main concerns about this method. Firstly, he said that studies done on schools built through P3 partnerships in the Maritimes suggest that it is a more costly way to construct new schools. Secondly, depending on the type of the P3 partnership that is used, Poole said there is potential to have a private company running the school building, which limits what can be done with certain aspects of the facility, like after-school activities.

Poole added that he does not take issue with Wolf Creek Public Schools initiating a P3 partnership but rather has issue with province imposing that mandate on the school board.

“I want to be clear that I am putting this onto the province, onto the provincial government, not onto the school board. They have to do what the province tells them.”

If the decision were up to him, Poole said he would be more in favour of using the traditional contract method of building as it is cheaper than P3 he said.

Councillor William Taylor echoed Poole’s disappointment and raised another issue, saying that he wasn’t sure if anyone should be giving land to a private company where there is always the interest of making money from the investment.

Currently, two parallel directions are being discussed as to how the P3 for the new Blackfalds school might be set up. One is that private corporations or municipal bodies would meet with the superintendent and members of his or her team to discuss the proposed needs of their organization. Another is to have an analysis follow relative to the funds that could be put toward the project from the private organization. This could be in the form of financial support to build additional space onto the school, providing funding for additional resources housed in the facility or expressing or outlining needs in the community that could be addressed by the design of the new facility. In all situations the student learning needs from the perspective of the school division and the new site are paramount and need to be framed as the first priority.

The proposed partnerships will then be considered in the planning process and the final design of the building will be formulated during the 2013-2014 school year. Once that design is finalized the two year construction phase will begin. The plan, in its current form, would see the completion of the Kindergarten to Grade 6 facility in the fall of 2016.

Wolf Creek Public Schools invites interested parties to submit their proposals in writing to the superintendent of schools by Aug. 21.