Letter – Project should focus on students

The High Prairie School Division board of trustees feel obliged to respond to the article in the South Peace News on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, entitled “Some councillors feel snubbed”.

Mayor Linda Cox and several councillors talk about the “old hospital” land as being the best fit for the new Northern Lakes College consolidated campus. The Town of High Prairie, Big Lakes County, NLC, HPSD, and Holy Family Catholic Regional Division have worked in partnership with the vision of a new college and perhaps the joining of high schools to that college. We hoped that the new hospital would be built, everyone moved over, the old building demolished, and the site cleaned up and ready to build if the province funded a new college.

In March of this year, NLC was awarded funding to build a college that would replace the three buildings they now occupy in High Prairie. It was a very happy day for this town and we all celebrated the wonderful news.

Initially, the dream of the “old hospital” site was still a possibility. However, very soon after the announcements were made the Alberta government began deferring building projects that had been promised, as a response to financial shortcomings.

Additionally, the “old hospital land” was still occupied, and Mayor Cox received a letter from the Alberta government stating that the cost of the land is estimated at $855,000 and that the government had no remediation plan, or funding available for the remediation, nor is there a date planned to do the remediation.

NLC has a piece of property west of the UFA in town that is about four acres in size. This property would easily accommodate the new replacement college. However, it would not allow for expansion nor would it be large enough to accommodate the addition of high schools when the government funds these. NLC approached the HPSD board of trustees about transferring the school reserve parcel of land that is east of High Prairie Elementary School. This approximate 4-acre piece of land is not used by a school at this time and is large enough to accommodate the college build. A high school addition or college expansion would be possible as this school reserve land borders High Prairie Elementary.

At a special meeting of the Town of High Prairie on Aug. 29 in which NLC and both school boards were invited, NLC explained to those present their need to start building in the spring of 2018. That means soil tests and geographical studies need to be completed. Architects and engineers need to design a building. That will take all winter. There would be no time to wait until the “old hospital” site might be ready. NLC further explained that if they did not have the shovel in the ground by spring they could quite possibly lose their funding.

Further, they found the High Prairie Elementary School reserve site more central to the residents who access college programming.

We left the meeting agreeing that HPSD would send a request to the Minister of Education for his permission to transfer the school reserve to NLC.

HPSD is looking with vision to the prospect of high school students having ready access to the vocational training NLC provides through dual credits. If the high schools are not physically attached we will continue to offer our dual credit programming using busing to get our students to the facility, just like we do for our student attending NLC’s campus at Tolko.

We were never in a partnership with the Town [of High Prairie] or anyone else to make this college an economic driver. This is for students.

It is also important to note that neither HPSD nor Holy Family CRD received any funding to build schools this year. Both school divisions have a new high school on their capital plan but with no funding, there is no plan to build a high school, or to take a school down, or to move students at this point. If funding was announced, HPSD would engage the community in the decision-making process.

Councillor Michael Long’s accusation that we have “no respect for elected officials and are not transparent and are not professional” is unfounded.

In fact, every trustee on our board is elected. How can we not believe in the democratic process that put us as the governors? The division was represented in the special meeting on Aug. 29 where a common agreement was reached.

Councillor Debbie Rose is correct in her assumption that this type of community discourse could put the college campus project in jeopardy. We need to stand united in our efforts.

Councillor Arlen Quartly states that “we do not need to be in the limelight”. Right you are. This is about the best opportunity for our citizens to get local, in-house education in a new, modern facility. It is about having a vision to expand or add high schools onto the build. It is about taking action now and not risking the funding and thus, not losing yet another growth opportunity for this town.

There are concerns about traffic, safety, and public access that the town will need to address with the college. This, however, should be done between the Town of High Prairie and NLC, not with letters to every minister in the province. We should not be seen as fighting against each other at the very time when elected provincial officials are watching for opportunities to take money from every pocket.

If the Town of High Prairie is so concerned about the school reserve land at High Prairie Elementary that they would withhold permits as Councillor Long threatened to do, NLC has the option of building on their own land. To us, that is short-sighted. We would have a wonderful college but with no chance of expansion or of joining the high schools onto it.

We feel that some of the town councillors are working against NLC building on the school reserve because they want to use the college to get the “old hospital” site cleaned up. We understand how unsightly a vacant lot is in the middle of town. We see the old ESSO site every day.

However, we would like everyone to think back four years ago when the partners wanted a new college building and the prospect of attaching high schools. We wrote letters, spoke to elected officials and lobbied for this reality. We are on the threshold of this happening. Let us not lose sight of the ultimate goal: “An educational facility that will offer vocational training for everyone, on a piece of land that is large enough for expansion and/or accommodation of high schools.

– High Prairie School Division Board of Trustees

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