FSD Answer Some Questions About the Two New Okotoks High Schools

Q. Why is Foothills School Division (FSD) now planning to build two high schools for Okotoks
A. There are two key reasons:
* Because Okotoks schools are very full. Having two high schools (for 900 students each), and renovating the existing high school as a K-9 school will help ease the crowding.
* Because there are now two great sites available to us – and we think having two new high schools at the north and south ends of Okotoks will present great opportunities for high school students.
A detailed backgrounder provides more information on how we came to secure two school sites. (See article posted at noon today: https://gatewaygazette.ca/why-two-new-high-schools-for-okotoks/)

Q. How do utilization rates compare provincially?
A. FSD’s Okotoks schools are at an average of 94 per cent capacity – or utilization rate. That number factors in the entire square footage of a school, including spaces that are not typically used for a homeroom class (such as a school gym, library, office, mechanical rooms, etc.). Essentially, having a 94 per cent utilization means our schools are very full. Here’s how FSD’s Okotoks utilization rate compares to other school divisions this year:
* Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic – both at 85%
* Edmonton Public Schools – 71%
* Rocky View Schools (including Airdrie and Cochrane) – 90%
* Golden Hills (Strathmore) – 64%
* St. Albert Public – 86%
According to provincial government guidelines, when schools reach 85 per cent capacity, it is time to seek provincial funding for new classroom space. School jurisdictions submit capital requests each year, and the province sorts them out according to need.

Q. How did Okotoks schools get so crowded?
A. A number of factors have combined to create this situation, including:
o Okotoks’ proximity to Calgary makes it a desirable location for families.
o The Town of Okotoks lifted the population cap. Since then more families with children have moved into the community.
o FSD needs land before the Province will provide funding for new schools. We have made several requests to the Town of Okotoks over the past several years and were told it would be more than five years before any land became available. So, we are very pleased with the recent news of the 32nd St. option.
o FSD, like other school divisions provincially, has to request provincial funding for schools to be built or renovated. In other words, we have to wait our turn. We currently have funding approval to build one new high school (at Aldersyde) and renovate the existing Okotoks high school to serve K-9 students. Assuming the Town of Okotoks can meet the provincial site preparation requirements for the 32nd St. parcel, FSD will move forward in securing provincial funding approval. The Province has already expressed support for the idea of two new high schools serving the Okotoks area.

Q. Why can’t FSD purchase its own land for school sites?
A. Provincial law governs how school jurisdictions get land for school sites. According to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, when a developer develops land, it must give 10 per cent of that land to the municipality. Alternately, a developer can sell the land but then must provide the money from the sale (of 10 per cent) to the municipality. The municipality can then choose to designate that land (or cash) as school reserve or as a municipal reserve. Municipal reserves can be used for community parks, etc.
School divisions do not get to choose which land to buy. The land is selected for them by the municipality and then the school division must request it.

Q. What about future growth in Okotoks? Do you need more schools and school sites?
A. Growth in Okotoks is projected to continue. As such, we will most certainly need more schools. We will continue to work with the Town, the M.D. of Foothills, and the Province of Alberta to ensure that high quality learning environments are created for our students.
FSD is eager to collaborate with the Town of Okotoks not only on this high school project (at 32nd St.), but also to create a long term plan that will ensure future school sites are available to accommodate population growth.
Board Chair, Christine Pretty explains, “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 interest of the students of Okotoks.”

Q. Will FSD continue with the school reconfiguration plans it announced in March and June 2015?
A. Yes. For more information on those decisions, please see:

Q. When will the new schools be open?
A. With Aldersyde, we are targeting construction to get underway in spring 2016 and anticipate opening the new school in the winter of 2017.
With the 32nd St. site, the Town has indicated that it is in the very beginning stages of work needed to meet provincial requirements. It is important to understand that the Province 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.
As soon as the Town of Okotoks addresses the outstanding requirements for the 32nd street site, FSD will move immediately to the next stage of the process – finalizing funding approvals and seeking the services of a design team. Assuming the Town is able to fulfill its commitments, FSD could begin construction by as early as spring 2017.
“The Province has indicated 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,” says FSD Superintendent, John Bailey.

Q. What happens with students in the meantime (while the schools are being built)?
A. We will continue with the plan as outlined following decisions made by our Board of Trustees in March and June 2015. For more information visit: http://www.fsd38.ab.ca/okotoks-community-consultation-related-documents/.

Q. How will having two new high schools impact the configurations of K-9 schools in Okotoks?
A. As we approach the completion of the new high school, and the modernization of the existing high school to serve K-9 students, we will re-evaluate the attendance boundaries for the schools in Okotoks. We are committed to engaging the community in this process to help make a decision that will be in the best interests of students.

Q. Both schools are located at busy roads, which may be a concern for some. How will you ensure each school is safe for students?
A. With both sites, FSD will follow its usual design protocol that involves surrounding roads and walkways.
With the Aldersyde site, The MD of Foothills is currently in discussions with the Province regarding an intersection approaching the school site. Based on traffic volumes, they intend to install traffic lights as well as other road safety features (e.g. widening the road to accommodate a turning lane).
The Town of Okotoks has also committed to work with us on traffic safety measures at the 32nd St. site.

Q. I would like to voice my opinion about the design of the new high school. How can I do that?
A. FSD is committed to involving the community in the design process. Everyone who would like to participate in the discussion will have the opportunity to do so. Stay tuned for more information.

Q. I would like to voice my opinion about future configurations for the schools in Okotoks. How can I do that?
A. We will begin that discussion approximately a year before the construction on the new high school, and reconfiguration of the existing high school (to serve K-9 students) is completed. We are committed to consulting with the community to ensure we understand community priorities with respect to boundary changes.

Q. I have other comments to make. How can I share my opinion with FSD?
Please contact us at FSDInformation@fsd38.ab.ca