Edmonton-area school divisions upset after being left out in the cold for new capital funding

The Alberta government announced 14 new school projects that will receive capital funding. But top priorities for Edmonton Public Schools and Elk Island Public Schools didn't make the cut.

Elk Island Public Schools, Edmonton Public Schools disappointed by Wednesday's announcement

Sherwood Heights Junior High School has been a priority to be replaced for Elk Island Public Schools for more than a decade. (Supplied by Elk Island Public Schools)

A couple of Edmonton-area school divisions are disappointed they won't receive funding for new school projects this year.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government announced 14 new school projects that will receive capital funding. But a replacement for Sherwood Heights Junior High School in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton, didn't make the cut, despite being a request Elk Island Public Schools has made for more than a decade.

"I don't think 'extremely disappointed' really, truly expresses how we feel," said Trina Boymook, Elk Island Public Schools board chair. "This building has been in a condition that really has a high sense of urgency for us."

Boymook said a replacement for the school, which was built in 1959, is their top capital priority. They first asked for funding to modernize the school in 2006. When that never happened and the building continued to deteriorate, she said, it reached a point where it needed a full replacement.

Currently, the school's heating system can't be regulated, Boymook said, which means students in some classrooms have to wear winter coats and tuques. The heating system is old enough that it's difficult to find repair parts, Boymook said, which increases the risk that if the system completely shuts down they won't be able to get it going again.

"Each winter that comes its way, it really has us on pins and needles," Boymook said. "[We're] just hopeful that we finally will get a commitment to move forward with a replacement school."

The province did announce design funding for a new Catholic high school in Edmonton on Wednesday, as well as for a replacement expansion of École Claudette-et-Denis-Tardif in Sherwood Park.

Funding for new schools in Calgary, Lethbridge, Camrose and Manning were also announced, as well as modernizations or replacement schools in Calgary, Red Deer, Airdrie, Coaldale, Evansburg, Fort Vermillion and Milk River.

In total, $268 million was allocated for those projects in the new provincial budget.

The province will again consider the school projects that weren't approved when additional funds are available, said Justin Marshall, press secretary for Alberta's minister of education.

"Unfortunately, considering the province's financial situation, there was a limited amount of funding for school projects in Budget 2021," Marshall said in an emailed statement.

Marshall said school boards must submit three-year capital plans to Alberta Education outlining their needs, which influences the provincial capital plan. Projects are considered and prioritized based on criteria such as health and safety, enrolment pressures, building conditions, functionality and programming, and legal requirements, Marshall said.

Edmonton Public Schools chair Trisha Estabrooks also expressed disappointment that her school division was not included in the province's announcement on Wednesday.

"We are one of the fastest growing school divisions in Alberta and the decision to not fund any of our infrastructure projects will impact students, staff and families," Estabrooks said in a written statement. "Our schools and communities will continue to face space pressures."

Five Edmonton Public School projects are currently under construction. That includes two new schools, two replacement schools and one modernization, all of which will open in September.

Topping Edmonton Public Schools' list of future construction priorities in its three-year capital plan, which was approved this week, is a new junior high school in the McConachie area estimated to cost $36 million and hold 950 students. Second is a new Grade 7-12 school in the Glenridding Heights neighbourhood, which is projected to cost $78 million and have a capacity of 2,400 students.

Estabrooks said she's concerned space needs in her division are being overlooked, and that Edmonton Public Schools will continue to see more students and fewer dollars due to a frozen provincial education budget.