Iron Ridge Elementary School in Blackfalds has reached its capacity and with limited options, the Wolf Creek Public School trustees have requested two new modular classrooms for the school, although they know it won’t be enough.
Secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson says Blackfalds is seeing an increase of students entering the school in younger grades and an increased student retention rate.
This year the school had an increase of about 50 students, said superintendent Larry Jacobs. “It’s going to start to take on some really big numbers in the next couple of years.”
Jacobs says a long-term goal is to have four modulars attached to the elementary school as well as build a new elementary school. However, he knows requesting four this year is an unrealistic plan.
The province told school boards only 40 modulars where being made this year. In recent years between 200 and 300 where prepared, so the announcement came as a shock to Jacobs.
Jacobs believes even 100 would be too few. “Forty is just not going to go anywhere. I could use four modulars now but demands around the province will swallow those up very quickly.”
Jacobs said Minister of Education Jeff Johnson announced to superintendents and board chairs across the province that schools wanting modulars should purchase them themselves using reserves. “There’s a perception that anytime a school has reserves it’s seen as surplus dollars.”
With Alberta’s 70/50 proposal, 70 modernizations and 50 new schools, Jacobs believes the province should see how 40 modulars wouldn’t be enough. With the 70/50 proposal you can sense the province is growing, said Jacobs.
“We were led to believe that we would hear announcements regarding the proposal very quickly.” However, Jacobs says announcements could now take anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
“That can be very problematic for schools like us,” he said. Jacobs believes with such long wait times schools are going to find short-term planning difficult.
Based on a census taken in Blackfalds, there are approximately 300 three-to-five year-olds who will enter school within the next couple of years. “That essentially speaks to a new school. Ideally I’d like to see a new school in the next two to three years,” said Jacobs.
He believes there will be a new school within the next five years but that’s too long for the school to hold out in the situation it faces. “We’re revamping the utilization of the elementary school.”
The school has opened up previously enclosed areas for more teaching space and is taking rooms that normally only have one purpose, such as a computer lab or music room and turning them into full-time classrooms.
The modulars requested will probably sit on the west side of the school, where modulars sat seven or eight years ago. However, they were removed when the junior high school opened.
Built right into the school, the modulars will become permanent structures of the elementary school. The board has requested dry models; no bathrooms. “They can run anywhere from $250,000 up, per modular,” said Jacobs.
As a last resort the elementary school may be given the old modulars from Lacombe’s junior high school. “If we’re in desperate straits we may have to take one of those.”
However, Jacobs has several concerns with that plan. Taking the modulars will reduce available space in Lacombe. He also believes Alberta Infrastructure may see moving the modulars to elementary school as a solution.
The modulars in Lacombe are also so old there is a chance they might not survive a trip to Blackfalds, said Jacobs. They’ve sat in Lacombe for approximately 20 years.
“My understanding is they had some lifespan before coming to our school division.” Jacobs says modulars aren’t structurally designed to be in use that long.
“The bottom line is Blackfalds is a high growth area that we need assistance with,” said Henderson. “We have a critical need for the space there.”
Four modulars is the optimal option for Blackfalds. But with the cutback in modulars being produced and Blackfalds not being the only school in the division needing modulars within the next couple of years, the board’s options are limited.
Terrace Ridge in Lacombe is a fairly new school built for developing subdivisions but with the area expanding as quickly as it has, it too will soon need modulars.
One of the challenges school boards face is the apparent short-sightedness of the province when it comes to constructing schools. Jacobs believes a portion of the problem is the province building schools based only on current needs. “They don’t necessarily think outside the box for up to five to 10 years.”