The Calgary Board of Education is defending its decision to lease a new office building after critics called the $285-million deal too expensive in the face of teacher cuts.

The board is preparing to move in March into its new headquarters at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street S.W.

 It incorporates a restored historic sandstone school with a new office block.

The 20-year lease for the 180,000-thousand square foot space will cost about $5.5 million in 2011 and $11 million in 2012 — a deal that was inked several years ago while Calgary's real estate market was near its peak.

The CBE said in June it was cutting 200 full-time teaching jobs and 85 support jobs.

"Have we paid too much for this building? We have paid the appropriate amount for the building at the time that we were negotiating it," said Pat Cochrane, CBE's chair of the board of trustees.

It is easy to second-guess the deal now, but the board had no way to know the economy was going to slump so dramatically, she said.

And Cochrane said defraying the cost by first selling the board's current home at 515 Macleod Trail S.E. was not an option.

"Well, we do have 235 people in the building who need offices to work in right now. And I'm not sure if anybody would be wanting to buy it and 'say can we give it to you in five years once we've worked through all these processes?'. That doesn't seem very sensible, does it," she said.   The issue highlights why Catherine Heggerud decided to run to be the trustee for Wards 11 and 13, she said.

"It's going to be the big hot topic of this election," she said. 

"Parents need to be more engaged. That's what I hear from everybody I talk to. They feel like decisions are being made and they don't have a say in that," she said.

Information about the lease was always public, Cochrane said.