A school building blitz is producing results in Edmonton with 14 new schools slated to open for the new school year and another two in January.
With enrolment in the public district growing by 15,000 students over the past five years, that district's 11 new schools will alleviate significant space crunches. Another five schools are opening in the Catholic district.
"This will have a significant and positive impact for junior high and elementary levels," said Lorne Parker, executive director of infrastructure for Edmonton Public Schools.
"The next round is to get high school spaces to accommodate students that are coming through at this time."
The new schools are spread across the city, but will likely have the biggest impact in new, outer suburbs.
Three years ago, both school districts struggled with staggering growth there; the Catholic district closed boundaries at two southwest schools, while the public district enacted a "growth accommodation plan" that forced some students to leave their schools for others with more space.
The former Alberta PC government promised a major school infrastructure plan, which itself was fraught with delays and unrealistic timelines.
But on the eve of the new school openings, staff were thrilled at the possibility and promise of new schools and new communities.
"Every room you go in has an element of great surprise and promise," said Leona Gordey, the principal at Constable Daniel Woodall School in Windermere.
"I think the flex space or common area is really welcoming for our families. The [library] will be a beautiful space — we have $113,000 worth of books arriving this week. Our gymnasium has windows around it, which is just a beautiful space. And our classrooms have all kinds of seating available."
The school entrance opens into a giant foyer with polished concrete floors that can be used for small school assemblies. And students will eat their lunches in the foyer during the school's first year, said Gordey.
Meanwhile, every room is filled with chairs and soft, cozy seats in bright colours.
Gordey had to hire an entire staff of teachers. They will be among the 173 teachers hired by the public school district to staff the new schools.
Schools set for growth
Construction crews were still present at Constable Daniel Woodall School on Tuesday and it's expected the crews will be on-site at many schools for at least a month after opening.
Gordey estimates there will be about 300 students signed up at her school by next week. But the school has a capacity for 650 students, so there is room to grow.
Overall, there are almost 13,000 new student spaces opening up with the opening of the 16 schools.
"I'm confident these new schools can accommodate the students in the boundaries for years to come," said Michelle Draper, chair of the board for Edmonton Public Schools.
Previously, some schools that have opened in the far south-side suburbs have filled up almost immediately.
The last time Edmonton Public Schools opened this many new schools was 1913.