Some councillors feel snubbed

Lack of input on Integrated College Campus has some members fuming

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Plans to build an Integrated College Campus in High Prairie are proceeding without input from town council.

And some councillors are very unhappy about it.

Council was presented with a letter dated Sept. 7 to five Alberta government departments co-signed by education partners Northern Lakes College, High Prairie School Division, and Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division. Not included as partners in the project were the Town of High Prairie and Big Lakes County, although both were forwarded copies of the letter.

Also disturbing to some councillors was that the education partners in the letter deleted their support for the demolition and reclamation of the old hospital site, for the purpose of locating the Integrated College at the location.

Instead, the education partners declared again their preferred site being at High Prairie Elementary School.

The partners have chosen land adjacent to the current location of the High Prairie School Division’s elementary school,” reads the letter.

In addition, they asked that Minster of Education David Eggen provide permission to transfer a piece of the land from school reserve to NLC.

HPSD chair Tammy Henkel says the partners wanted to move quickly on the matter and did not want to wait for town council and county council to meet and respond.

Based on the fact the college approached us with their concerns,” she said. “They want to speed up the timeline of the project in the 2018 year.”

An effort to reach NLC board chair Dan Vandermeulen Sept. 17 after Henkel’s interview was unsuccessful.

NLC vice-Chair Ray Stern, of Slave Lake, attended a public meeting Aug. 29 called by town council to discuss the project, but wanted to go in-camera to discuss the matter. Council complied with the request.

In an earlier interview in late July, Henkel said they were concerned over the length of time needed to prepare the old hospital site for a new campus.

This project is a joint project between three partners [NLC, HPSD and Holy Family]. We’re trying to facilitate it…to enhance education. At the end of the day it is an education project. We want the best facility in the best location to serve the needs.”

A few councillors expressed concern at their Sept. 12 meeting.

They don’t want our input,” said Donna Deynaka. “They don’t care what we have to say. That’s my take on this letter.”

Mayor Linda Cox agreed.

We do not agree with this decision,” she said, warning council if they opposed it may be seen as a stumbling block by the Alberta government.

You will incur the wrath of the school divisions [and NLC].”

Cox, however, saw a different scenario.

If it is a good project, it’s a good project. It will be built. I still believe the old hospital site is the best place to put it, not in the Back 40.”

Cox cited accessibility and visibility on Highway 2 as the main reasons.

Councillor Michael Long was furious over the education partners’ refusal to include town council and the chosen location.

We have worked extremely hard to build relationships…here we are with our colleagues in education telling the citizen of our region they will make this decision. There is no respect for the elected officials.

Why was our input not worthwhile?” asked Long, calling it a lack of professionalism and lack of transparency on behalf of the education partners.

What you’ve done is insulting…and you should be ashamed. You cut our legs out from under us.”

Councillor Brian Gilroy agreed.

We invested a ton of time last fall. I don’t know if it expedited their funding,” he said.

Gilroy saw no hope of the education partners changing their mind.

A letter like this tells us a decision has been made. The AHS [old hospital] land was geared toward education. I am very disappointed.”

Long and Gilroy both said they spoke to several residents in the area and they were opposed to the location of the campus at HPE.

Tell them what you think of their governance,” said Gilroy. “I’ve been encouraging people to run for the school board.”

HPSD and Holy Family trustees are elected while NLC members are appointed.

I’m disappointed we are out of the loop,” said Councillor Debbie Rose, “and the lack of communication.”

However, Rose and Councillor Arlen Quartly did not want to lose sight of the fact that a new NLC campus would be good for High Prairie.

No matter where that college is, it’s good for High Prairie,” said Rose.

She was also worried the provincial government may see there is not support for the project from the entire community.

If we are united, there will be a better opportunity for them to get funding,” said Rose.

Why wouldn’t you want to be one united voice?”

Later, she feared for the future of the project.

I don’t think I can vote to stop what the school divisions have started,” she said. “We can potentially stop the project.”

Although they have neglected to collaborate with us?” asked Cox.

Absolutely,” said Rose.

Quartly saw the letter as being positive.

I read this about three times. This is awesome. This is going to happen. We don’t need to be in the limelight. They are saying the right things as to what we need and want. I don’t think we can get hung up on not being in the letter. We have to do what we can when they need our support.”

Long was concerned about location, being near a residential area, school and seniors housing with only one way in and out for traffic.

All the parking, all the driving going into that region loaded with little kids.

At what time, as a council, do we lose control of the development of our community?” he added. “One would think there would be public consultation. There is none of that.

They [education partners] do not represent this community, they represent education.

They don’t get to tell us nothing. We are the representative of this community. They couldn’t wait to give us the respect to have a dialogue. This is what I’m mad about.”

Long reminded council NLC would still need council’s help.

They need a permit to build. They think we’re going to roll over.”

They have to build it somewhere,” said Rose.

Quartly agreed the hospital site was the best site but would settle for the other location.

The best spot is the hospital site. Get it prepped the right way. Do it right. If it takes an extra year…the Alberta government has to step up and do it.”

Council agreed to send a letter to the same government departments as the education partners stating their preference of the old hospital location, and also Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee. She was not sent the education partners letter.

Council also requested a meeting with Larivee as soon as possible.

During discussion, Councillor Brian Panasiuk declared interest because he is an employee of NLC.

However, at a special meeting of town council Aug. 29 which discussed the Integrated College Campus, Panasiuk did not declare interest, and participated in the in-camera discussions.

Earlier, council agreed at its July 25 meeting to send a letter to various levels of government asking that the government speed up the process of demolishing the old hospital to clear the way for the campus.

At the time, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman replied the government does not have an estimated cost of demolishing the old hospital.

There is no time frame for the demolition and remediation of the site,” she wrote.

The land value…and site preparation for future development is currently appraised at $855,000,” she added.

There is still no plan for demolition of the hospital.

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