Edmonton’s Ottewell neighbourhood will be home to a new Catholic mega-school, after the school board voted Tuesday night to shut down three other schools in the area.

After more than five hours of debate, trustees voted Tuesday night to close St. Kevin Junior High, St. James and St. Brendan Elementary schools.

The new school, which will be built on the current site of St. Brendan School at 58th Street and 93A Avenue, will run from kindergarten to Grade 9.

After a 5-2 vote, trustees opted to keep St. Gabriel Elementary School, one of the four on the chopping block, open after parents lobbied in favour of the school.

Chair of the St. Gabriel Parent Advisory Council, Lana Brenneis credited community efforts for saving the school and said the group wanted to remain involved.

“The parents and community have put in an amazing amount of hard work and I am so glad that five of the seven trustees understood the importance of keeping this community school open,” she said.

“We came back with some potential alternatives. We’re willing to work with the Catholic School District. We would love to sit down with the district and continue to talk about potential for a redevelopment,” she added.

One of those alternatives proposed turning St. Gabriel's into a multi-use facility that could house seniors or be leased out to professional services.

Parents unhappy with decision

Christina Riddoch's daughter is a student at St. James, where she hoped her 3-year old would also attend.

“It's a great school. It's disheartening that they're closing the school. It's been here for many, many years and my daughter loves it here and the teachers are fantastic ... it's really, really hard.”

Shannon Evans, whose two children also go to St. James, said she thinks the decision to close that school is short-sighted.

“This neighbourhood is changing – the demographics are changing –older people are moving out, younger families are moving in,” she said.

“I think they're going to need the school. I think the one they're building is too small for the population that they're going to find. They're going to need spaces in a very short amount of time.”

Low enrolment and high maintenance fees

Catholic School Board Chair Cindy Olsen said closing the schools was a difficult decision to make.

Interview with Cindy Olsen, school board chair

“I am sure that every trustee agonized over it because it's a very difficult decision and there's so many things that you're looking at and I believe our process was very transparent I believe we listened.”

In a message released Tuesday night, Olsen said there were a combined 1,500 unused spots at the four schools.

The total deferred maintenance cost of running the four schools was just over $22 million.

Moving to the new school site will save $1.5 million in deferred maintenance costs.

The school, which is slated to open in two to three years, is expected to be large enough to take in the 644 students who will be displaced from the three closing schools.

She said administrators will work with Alberta Infrastructure to determine the exact size of the new school as well as a timeline for construction.