Gateway Gazette

Foothills School board moves to establish collaborative relationship with Town of Okotoks

 

High River, AB, September 17, 2015 – The Foothills School Division (FSD) Board of Trustees, in a decision at its meeting on September 16, 2015, has moved towards a positive, collaborative working relationship with the Town of Okotoks. The board’s decision to accept the Town’s offer of a school site for one of two new high schools is a step towards a long term plan the board hopes to develop together with the Town.

“We want to work with the Town of Okotoks to develop a comprehensive agreement that would not only address what needs to occur with this particular site,” says Christine Pretty, Board Chair, FSD. “The plan would also address the need for additional school sites in the future. It is in our best interest to work together as organizations to ensure our students – who are also Town residents – have high quality learning environments. As trustees, and as a school division, doing what is best for students is our primary concern.”

The board’s September 16th decision will see two new high schools for Okotoks students, modifying what the board had decided in March 2015. In March, FSD only had one site available to it – a site in Aldersyde next to the Legacy Regional Field House. The Division was also facing unparalleled crowding in its schools. Although FSD had approached the Town for land, FSD was told there would be no sites available for schools for more than five years. The Aldersyde site allowed the board to proceed towards a school that would eventually accommodate 1,800 students.

In late August, the Town of Okotoks offered a potential site for a high school on Okotoks’ north side, located on 32nd street. The Town has indicated it plans to annex the land, and is also working to purchase it. As a result of this offer, FSD modified its plan, and will now build a 900 student school on the Aldersyde site. Also, assuming the Town can meet the requirements for the site it has proposed on 32nd street, a second 900 student school will be built there. The board’s intention to convert its existing Okotoks high school to a school for kindergarten to grade nine students remains in place. Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure, which fund school construction, have expressed their approval for the revised plan.

“We are anxious to move forward with all three projects,” says John Bailey, Superintendent of Schools, FSD. “We are overdue for new school facilities in Okotoks. If we had two new schools today we could easily fill them. The crowding in our schools in this community has been a serious issue for a number of years. Our challenge has been obtaining new school sites, so that is why we are so pleased with the Town’s offer. Having two school sites is wonderful for us, and helps us get going in a timely fashion.”

“We are glad the Town of Okotoks has acknowledged that we need school sites,” says Pretty. “Growth is a challenge and opportunity that we can best address as we work together. As we expressed to the Town, our desire is to work together, and we hope they will honour their commitment to be collaborative working partners in the best interests of the students of Okotoks.”

In Alberta, school sites are granted to school divisions by municipalities. Municipalities get land from developers; as they develop land, the developers must give 10 per cent to municipalities for their use. Municipalities can then choose to use that land for municipal uses or for school sites.

Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure will not fund a school until municipalities have fully completed the transfer of land to the school division and addressed zoning requirements. Also on the Province’s Site Readiness checklist are other requirements such as having power/water/ sanitary services up to the property line, land available for parking and playgrounds, and more.

“The Town has indicated to us that it is working on meeting these requirements for the new high school site,” says Bailey. “As soon as these items are addressed, we will be able to move forward.”

Bailey adds, “The Province has indicated to us that Okotoks is a high priority because of growth, and it is anxious to see additional schools in the community. We are confident that as soon as the site requirements are addressed by the Town, we would quickly gain provincial funding approval.”

FSD has retained Gibbs Gage Architects to design the new Aldersyde high school. FSD is pleased to work with such a highly regarded firm, whose work includes the new SAIT building. FSD expects construction will begin in the spring of 2016.

“Thank you again to the MD of Foothills for providing us with an excellent school site next to a state-of-the-art recreation facility,” says Pretty. “And thank you for being such a cooperative partner throughout this entire process.”

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