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St. Albert’s Catholic board proposes five-school shakeup

Plan would mean new Father Jan and affect thousands of students
GSACRD graphic

Clarification
This story originally said that the proposed new Father Jan would be built "on one of the two school sites" in Riverside, based on information from GSACRD and St. Albert Public officials. The City of St. Albert says that while a second school site has been proposed for Riverside, city council hasn't approved it yet, and there's currently just one site listed for Riverside.

It also said that this strategy had been in the works since April 2018. Joe Becigneul has since clarified that work started in April 2019.

St. Albert’s Catholic school board wants parents to weigh in on a complex plan that would move four school populations, build a new Father Jan, and affect thousands of students – all in as little as five years.

Greater St. Albert Catholic board trustees approved the Faith in Our Future business plan Monday and rolled out a months-long consultation plan to go with it.

The plan, if implemented, would see all Marie Poburan students moved next door to École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY), ESSMY’s high school students sent to St. Albert Catholic High, the St. Gabriel distance learning school and district office moved to the Marie Poburan building, and École Father Jan rebuilt at a new site in Riverside by 2024. The district would also close 14 portables at different school sites.

The board has been working on this plan since April 2019 as a way to solve a series of problems, GSACRD board chair Joe Becigneul said. None of the changes in it have been implemented yet, and the board will host two open houses and extensive talks in the next few months that could change it considerably.

If the plan does go ahead, the board heard it could save the district close to $3 million, replace the city’s oldest school building, make better use of school space, and improve health and safety.

“It would just be a better use for all our resources,” Becigneul said.

Five-part problem

Board superintendent David Keohane explained this plan was motivated by financial, health and safety concerns.

The district has high-school French Immersion at ESSMY and SACHS but most parents in French Immersion are sending their kids to SACHS, Keohane said. Moving ESSMY’s high school students to SACHS would consolidate services and reduce costs.

ESSMY is also underutilized. Adding Marie Poburan’s K-to-6 students to ESSMY would make it a K-9 school and raise its utilization rate to 92 per cent from 53.

The district office building on Mission Hill needs close to $1 million in heat and ventilation upgrades and has poor security, while the St. Gabriel building needs a $130,000 lift to be wheelchair accessible and costs $100,000 a year to lease, Keohane continued. If the Marie Poburan students move to ESSMY, St. Gabriel students and district office staff could move into their old school (which would become the Marie Poburan Education Centre pending approval by the Poburan family), cancelling these costs.

École Father Jan is about 63 years old, probably has asbestos in it, and can’t affordably be renovated, Becigneul said. The board’s three-year capital plan judged it to be in the worst condition of all schools in the district.

By making better use of school space with the aforementioned changes, the board hopes to convince the province to build a new $19-million 900-student Father Jan in Riverside that would be more energy efficient, host more students (it would be K-9 dual track instead of K-6 French Immersion) and offer CTS courses. Keohane noted there is not enough space on the current Father Jan property to build a new school while keeping the old one open.

Keohane said these changes would save the board some $2.78 million over five years. Cash from selling the old Father Jan and district office lands would fund the removal of 14 surplus portables, cutting operating costs and raising the district’s school site utilization rates to 75 per cent.

“There is no school closing through this proposal,” he said, and no students would be moved this school year.

Your thoughts?

The plan would see the board take this school year to consult with stakeholders. EMP and ESSMY students would move by 2021, with St. Gabriel and district office to follow by 2022. By 2024, the new Father Jan would be built and the 14 extra portables closed.

Becigneul said all GSACRD families were sent a letter Tuesday about this proposal and were encouraged to weigh in through the district’s Thoughtexchange website. There will be an open house at SACHS on the plan this Oct. 30 from 5 to 8 p.m., with a second planned for early next year. The board would take what it heard from the public and make a final decision on the plan next spring.

“There’s 6,000 students in Greater St. Albert, and we’re going to need to hear from them," Becigneul said.

See gsacrd.ab.ca/administration/faithinourfuture for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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