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RVS board of trustees identify capital priorities for 2024

The Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board of Trustees identified it main capital priorities for 2024 during its March 23 meeting, but admitted they were largely uncertain if the province would come through on any new capital funding in the next year.

The Rocky View Schools (RVS) Board of Trustees identified its main capital priorities for 2024 during its March 23 meeting, but trustees admitted they were largely uncertain if the province would come through on any new capital funding in the next year.

The school division's top four capital priorities remain unchanged from 2023, with a new Airdrie K-8 school at the top of the list followed by a new Airdrie high school. Third and fourth on the list were new K-8 school in Cochrane and a new K-9 school in Chestermere.

However due to compounding population growth, trustees were also informed it has become necessary to advance priorities five through seven into its 2024 capital ask. In other words, a second K-8 school for Airdrie, a new K-8 school in Springbank, and new Cochrane high school to fill out the list.

“When you are growing 750 to 1,000 students each and every year, the reality is you need a new school to open every year to accommodate those students,” explained RVS Superintendent of Schools Greg Luterbach. “That has been our challenge over the last little while– we haven’t had new school approvals.”

The school division’s Director of Operations Colette Winter said RVS currently has just over 27,000 students in its schools, and is projecting growth to almost 40,000 by 2033.

“We would like the building of schools to support this increase in enrolments,” she said. “So 1,000 students a year is at least one new school, if not two new schools, each and every year that need to be built within our system.”

Airdrie Ward 3 Trustee Melyssa Bowen said such rapid growth was truly concerning, particularly since so few schools had actually been built in RVS in her six years on the Board of Trustees-- even though new schools in Langdon and Bow Valley have been promised.

“I think it is important when we hear from government that that have created 6,625 new spaces since 2019, the reality is none of those spaces are actually created as of yet,” she said. “We do have Langdon, of course, and the expansion of Bow Valley that are going to be coming – we know that because they have been funded for – but those are the only two projects where we can actually say, ‘Those are spaces that are coming.’ But those are also spaces we needed several years ago.”

Bowen was referring to comments made by Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt in a Facebook post on March 14 in which the MLA disputed individuals in the school division for circulating “misinformation” about the 2023 budget.

“In total, since 2019,” Pitt stated in her post, “our government has invested in a total of six school projects for Rocky View School Division, which will create approximately 6,625 new and modernized spaces as soon as possible.” 

Airdrie Ward 3 Co-Trustee Todd Brand asked staff if the province’s newly released guidelines on how it plans to fund the three phases of planning, (pre-planning, planning and design), recently announced by Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, instead of one, added any clarity to the division’s understanding of when and if any of its capital priorities would receive funding for construction. 

Yes and no, answered Winter.

“There is still a bit of grey involved here, but the design (component) is most clear,” she said. “So when design funding has been awarded, it’s quite clear the next year construction funding will be coming. When it comes to planning and pre-planning, I would say that grey gets a little bit more grey. So I would say, it is anticipated these schools will be built, but that’s not confirmed.” 

Brand also refuted comments made by Pitt in the same Facebook post in which she stated: “Budget 2023 clearly identifies the key activities that school boards need to complete before full construction funding will be provided. In the past, governments have committed full funding for projects that simply were not actually ready for construction. As a result, the time from announcement to build would run between [three to five] years. This could have been prevented. If projects are ready for construction, under this new process, builds may only take 18 to 24 months.”

“I know two of (RVS’ top capital priorities) already have site readiness, and that was part of the reason we were so disappointed with the announcement of new schools, and the implication that if we were ready we would have got them,” Brand stated. “But they were ready for over a year, (so it) was disappointing obviously to hear that commentary– because we have sites ready.”

The two sites deemed to be currently “shovel ready” are the newly proposed K-8 school for Airdrie and a K-8 school in Springbank. Three others, Brand was told by RVS staff, should be fully planned out and shovel ready by 2024.