Between A Rock and A Hard Place

On occasion Council is faced with making a decision that will not be satisfactory to everyone.  Such is the situation with the proposed regional French junior/senior high school planned for Erin Ridge.

Earlier this summer the provincial government announced that St. Albert would be the recipient of two new schools – an elementary school in the Protestant system and a combined junior/senior high school for the regional French system.  The larger elementary school for 600+ students is designated for the north Erin Ridge site.  The smaller 350-450 student junior/senior high school is to be located on Eldorado Drive.

The north Erin Ridge site is a green field and construction is not controversial.  However, the site slated for the French school in Eldorado Park is on municipal reserve land adjacent to an established park which has been green space since its designation in 1986. The construction of this school is intensely controversial, at least for some people who live nearby.

On Monday, August 19, many residents who live close to Eldorado Park attended the Council meeting to voice their opposition to the construction of this school.  Reasons for their opposition include anticipated parking problems, increased traffic density and speed, loss of park green space, reduced residential property values, pedestrian safety concerns, loss of community sports facilities, insufficient school lands, student parking issues and additional commercial growth.

On Monday’ August 26, Council will hear from the Province of Alberta, the three school boards serving St. Albert (Catholic, Protestant and French) and parents of students who hope to attend the new French junior/senior high school.

Undoubtedly, Council will hear of the province’s intent to move quickly in order to have both schools operational in 2016; and that any delay to the construction bidding process will put that school at risk.

The three school boards will speak to their legal right to assign school construction to municipal reserve land.  The Eldorado Park site has long been designated as a school site.

Parents will talk about their children finally moving out of the basement of Youville Home and into a purpose built school.  These parents will declare their children deserve this school and anything that puts its construction in jeopardy is not in keeping with the interests of the community as a whole.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, what is Council to do?

First, listen.  It is incumbent on all elected officials to listen and truly seek to understand all sides of this debate.

Second, review all available information.  Many theoretical options have been proposed and Council needs to thoroughly examine each one to ascertain what is viable versus wishful thinking.

Third, Council must clearly understand which remedies are within its purview.  Many have postulated that a motion of council is all that is required for a new school site to be made available.  Council needs to understand the full process as well as its ability to act.

Finally, Council needs to take action.  Viable options must be defined, then the decision made so that construction can begin.

My enduring hope is that a win-win solution can be identified, now, before we lose the school altogether