Smoky Lake letter-writing campaign hopes to secure funds for new school

The school is hoping to gather 200 personalized letters from the town of less than 1,000 people to send to the Premier's office asking to fund a new school in the next budget.

The only school in Smoky Lake, Alta., is in disrepair

Aspen View School Division has put repairs for H.A. Kostash, the only school in Smoky lake, at the top of its capital project submission to the province. (Aspen View Public School Division)

People in Smoky Lake say the town's only school is in disrepair.

The dilapidated roof is prone to leaks and the entire mechanical system is on the brink of failure.

The Aspen View School Division has put repairs at H.A. Kostash school at the top of its capital project priority submissions to the province since 2016.

Each year, the school ends up on unfunded projects list.

"From our perspective, the need is there, but obviously the political will doesn't seem to be there," said school trustee Tom Mykytiuk.

In July, with advice from Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Education, the division updated its submission to ask the province for a new school rather than repairs to the existing one.

Modernizing the school would cost more than $30 million. A new school would cost about $37 million.

Tom Mykytiuk, local school trustee, says he hopes the school will collect 200 personalized letters from the community to be sent to the premier. (Tom Mykytiuk)

The school division is now organizing a letter-writing campaign in hopes of securing funds for a new school in the next provincial budget.

By mid-November, the school hopes to gather 200 personalized letters from the town of fewer than 1,000 people to send to the premier's office. 

"We're making this extra effort to draw attention to our school, because there's not much else we can do," said Mykytiuk, who has two children who attend the school.

"This is in some ways, I guess, a bit of a lesson in citizenship and government."

An assessment of the school  — built in 1948 and added to later — commissioned by Alberta Infrastructure, found more than a dozen problems.

"This entire building is in a poor state of repair," the report noted.

"During large rain events [school staff] noted that sometimes the sanitary sewer is overwhelmed and water comes out the drinking fountain drain in the 1948 section of the school."

The assessment found the building was not up to code: fire sprinklers weren't installed in much of the building and the insulation was outdated.

Buckets are strategically placed in the hallway to collect water dripping from the ceiling during spring thaw. Space heaters are rolled into classrooms when the furnace fails in the winter.

The ceilings of H.A. Kostash often leak during spring thaw; the roof needs an estimated $1.2 million worth of repairs. (Tom Mykytiuk)

Principal Dick Richards said the building is more than a school for 316 students, ranging from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12. It also houses a day-care program, taekwondo classes and registrations for local sports teams.

"This is a building that's used year-round," he said. "The community relies on the building to provide a safe space for these events.

Asked about unfunded school projects during an interview on CBC's Edmonton AM, Premier Rachel Notley said her government inherited a "massive" infrastructure debt when it came to power in 2015.

"We are continuing to move forward as quickly as we can, in as responsible way as we can," she said.

Since 2011, the government has approved more than 250 school capital projects, of which 177 have been completed, according to the latest annual update from Alberta Infrastructure.

As of March, the H.A. Kostash project was among more than 30 unfunded capital projects put forward by school division's requesting provincial money for construction, modernization or new schools.

Neil O'Shea, superintendent of schools for Aspen View division, said the letter-writing campaign is an attempt to show the government there is a "groundswell of support" from the entire community for a new school.  

"Just because we don't have exploding populations, doesn't mean we're not entitled to good facilities," he said.

"Let's not forget about rural Alberta and our needs as well."