The cost of building schools isn’t what it used to be, and it has opened talks that the next round of construction will have a longer list than originally planned.
“The bids are coming in lower than what we had budgeted for, for many school projects across the province,” confirmed Education minister Dave Eggen. “It’s an indication of just what a great time it is to build schools.”
“They’re definitely coming in, between ten and twenty per cent lower for sure.”
Eggen said in the past nine weeks, 32 schools have opened province wide, with another dozen are due in January. In all 230 projects are on the books now. “It’s certainly optimistic to see bids are coming in lower and that gives us a lot more latitude on how we can move forward.”
Eggen said he’s well aware of that hot spot. “We see enrollment continues to grow here. It’s gratifying. We have young families staying here in the province particularly in the cities. As we build our next list for construction we keep all of those things in mind.”
“We’re trying to use a way by which we choose based on need, and geographic location and anticipated growth over the next decade or so.”
North of Calgary in the Airdrie area, as well as mid sized cities are also showing growth pressures.
“You see a demographic growth in the province but it’s in specific spots,” said Eggen. “I have to be sensitive to geographic fairness, and you have to try to use a bit of a crystal ball to see where young families are going to be in the next decade or so.”
The incentive is there to build. Ward 9 in south west Edmonton is the fastest growing segment of the city. Coun. Bryan Anderson points to the area exploding with forty per cent of the development permits for new housing. “It is going to translate into significant population increase over the next five to ten years.”
“It seems to me from talking to parent advisory councils and parents in Ward 9 that it seems like almost every school has four five or six kindergarten classes which translates into the same number of grade one and in as short a period of time as seven or eight years we’re going to have that flood hitting junior high and high school ages,” Anderson said.
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Jammed classrooms are fueling the speculation that a high school in deep south west Edmonton is in the cards. Anderson said space at Harry Ainlay could be renovated. “It is bursting at the seams and I think they’re proposing to take weight rooms and music rooms and turn them into classrooms so they can accommodate a significant number of new students.”
“Lilian Osborne is just completing a renovation that will allow an additional 600 students to attend that school,” Anderson said. “It seems to me from talking to parent advisory councils and parents in ward nine that it seems like almost every school has four five or six kindergarten classes which translates into the same number of grade one and in as short a period of time as seven or eight years we’re going to have that flood hitting junior high and high school ages.”
“We are hearing similar things,” said Edmonton Public School Board chair Michael Janz in a message. But he’s not getting his hopes up. “Nothing is true till it’s announced,” he wrote.
The EPSB capital plan for 2017-2020 lists a new high school for 2,400 students in Glenridding in Windermere as the number four project on the priority list, behind junior highs in Highlands, and the Meadows, and an elementary in Pilot Sound. The wish list also includes proposals for school renovations.
“I’ve looked at that. We have to look at the grade three who’ll become grade ten in seven years. That’s part of it too. High schools are considerably more expensive,” Eggen said.
The original plan, Eggen said was in the next round to build 20-30 schools. With a ten per cent cushion could that be 22-33? Eggen wouldn’t go there. Formal announcement will be in the spring when Finance Minister Joe Ceci tables his budget.