“(Wednesday night) I was at a forum for PC leadership candidates and the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils. We heard a great deal about the need for new and modernized schools to meet the needs of Alberta’s growing population.
One of my fellow candidates – who didn’t attend the forum – made a commitment (the following day) to add 50 new schools to our existing commitment of 50 new schools and 70 modernized schools.
Alberta is certainly growing and there are pressing infrastructure needs, which I worked to address as both the Minister of Transportation and, more recently, the Minister of Infrastructure.
However, the decisions we make today must meet the current and long-term challenges our communities face. The costs to build a school are very dependent on the size and the students – a small school can cost $14 million while a new high school can cost upwards of $50 million.
To make a blanket statement that 50 new schools are needed now – without looking at the greater community needs and how those can be met – is not fiscally responsible. The cost to build 50 new schools could be in the range of a few billion dollars – plus the staffing and other long-term costs to operate them.
I value the opinion of my bosses, and I value their right to demand the government provide value for their tax dollars. We need to look at partnerships with school boards and developers and innovative ideas for building schools. We could see schools designed and built to expand and contract with the population or incorporate elements that could make schools more of a community hub, with the possibility of a completely different use down the road.
Nearly $2 billion is currently committed in the government’s Capital Plans to build new schools and modernize existing schools for students in Alberta communities, from Airdrie to Beaverlodge, Fort McMurray to Barnwell as part of our existing commitment to 50 new and 70 modernized schools.
Building schools without the option of using portables is a recipe for overbuilding our education infrastructure. Portables are a fiscally-responsible way to manage the change in the number of schools in a new community over time. I will not intentionally overbuild schools.
Make no mistake. A government I lead will put the schools needed in place and in a timely fashion. Promises however, will be made based on data about need rather than as a way to score easy political points.
In a time where our finances are still recovering, we need to be wise and prudent and base spending on sound reasoning and planning. That is how I will operate – based on solid planning and facts.