Alberta’s surprise announcement about new schools pleases boards

WATCH ABOVE: School boards in Calgary and Edmonton got a big surprise yesterday when promised starter schools became full-sized ones. Shallima Maharaj has reaction.

EDMONTON — School boards in Edmonton and Calgary will be getting a dozen new schools they weren’t expecting.

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Last fall, Premier Jim Prentice announced dozens of new schools in quickly-growing communities. Twelve of those were to be so-called “starter schools.” The schools would only accommodate about 250 students and they wouldn’t have had gyms or libraries.

WATCH: Prentice announces new schools for Alberta 

Late Wednesday afternoon, Alberta Education confirmed that plan had changed.

“With the best interests of students in mind, we have approved the request by the four metro school boards who were previously approved for 12 starter schools to proceed with the full build-out schools instead,” an Alberta Education spokesperson said.

Six of the new schools will be built in Edmonton. The other six will be in Calgary. The new schools will be able to hold between 600 and 900 students.

The news came as a surprise to school boards.

Edmonton Public Schools received an email from the province saying that four starter schools originally planned for the district will now be full schools. A board spokesperson says the change would be welcome. Edmonton Public Schools has been actively advocating for these changes ever since it learned the new facilities were to be “starter schools.”

“This is excellent because we need these spaces, we need them badly and we need them as soon as possible,” said Michael Janz, the board chair of Edmonton Public Schools.

“We’ve had 10,000 new students to our district over the last four years and we know we need these spaces.”

Lori Nagy with Edmonton Catholic Schools says the school board is very pleased with Alberta Education’s decision, “as it shows their commitment to accommodating our increasing number of students. We look forward to receiving the specifics and timeline for these schools.”

WATCH: The provincial government has approved school boards’ request and will build full schools instead of 12 starter schools. Fletcher Kent reports.





Alberta Education says the 12 schools will be open by the fall of 2016. Education Minister Gordon Dirks says changing the plan from starter schools to full builds will only add a few months to the construction schedule.

“This way, we do one build instead of doing two builds over a period of time,” he said Thursday. “And we can get a significant number of spaces up quicker.”

“The school boards requested that we consider moving to a full build as opposed to the originally thought of starters. They’ve done their analysis and feel this is something that can be done in a fiscally prudent way,” Dirks added.

He said the money for the revised plan is coming from what was originally budgeted in the Capital Plan for the series of new schools that were announced last fall.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley is skeptical of the timing of the decision, calling it PC electioneering.

“When I saw that they expect them to be open in 2016 I laughed out loud,” Notley said Thursday, “because I will eat my hat if those schools are open by September 2016. I highly doubt that they will be.”

*NOTE: This article was originally published on Feb. 18, and was updated on Feb. 19 with comments from school boards and education minister.

© Shaw Media, 2015

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