Blackfalds to get high school as Alberta government announces school project funding

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange visits Grade 6 students at Lacombe Upper Elementary School in Lacombe, Alta. on Friday, June 14. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe) jpg, LG

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The Town of Blackfalds will finally be getting a high school.

On Friday, the Government of Alberta announced $397 million to go towards 25 capital projects for schools, which includes funding for the design of a new Grade 9-12 high school for Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) in Blackfalds.

“It’s very exciting – we’re really pleased with the announcement,” said WCPS Supt. Jayson Lovell.

“It’s been on the books for Wolf Creek and on our capital plan for multiple years. It’s been a priority for the board for five to seven years, and its been one of our top priorities as a school division. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re glad it was announced today.”

Blackfalds is the only community in Alberta with a population over 10,000 people that does not have a high school of its own. In early 2018, 221 high-school aged students had to travel to Lacombe Composite High School (LCHS) in Lacombe, and it’s projected that number would hit 244 for the 2020-21 academic year and surpass 300 by 2026-27.

LCHS, at present, is at 87 per cent capacity, and with current growth rates, Lovell says it could be in the 90-95 per cent utilization range by the time a high school opens in Blackfalds based on an estimated three-year timeline for planning and construction.

Iron Ridge Junior Campus, a Grade 7-9 school in Blackfalds, meanwhile, will surpass its capacity by 2022.

WCPS’ primary goal is to ensure they are able to address the major need in Blackfalds as well as capacity at both LCHS and the junior campus in the near future.

“When we made that submission, we called it a core capacity high school,” said Lovell. “We wanted to make sure, in our application, we had the ability to accomodate 850 students, understanding, too, the province does sometimes build a school with expandability around portables.

“We are optimistic and hopeful that it will actually be at that 850 level.”

In WCPS Capital Plan, which was revised in June to make the school their number one priority, they estimated just shy of $30 million for the project, but no specifics have been released by the Government of Alberta on what the funding from them for the project will look like.

However, Blackfalds is now advocating for a composite high school to bring a variety of option courses to their now-coming school.

“We want it to not just be a basic high school. We want it to have different activities within it and we’re looking at the possibility – nothing’s been confirmed yet – of partnering with Wolf Creek to put in extra things within the school that may advance different goals, like maybe arts goals and those types of things,” said Blackfalds Mayor Richard Poole. “We’re hoping with partnerships we can really move forward and have exciting options for our kids.”

Regardless of what happens on that front, however, there’s no shortage of excitement around the announcement.

“I’m so pleased for the entire Town of Blackfalds. Over 10 years we’ve been advocating strongly to have a high school within our community,” Poole said. “It’s going to mean so much to our community and to the residents within our community.”

Both Poole and Lovell credited the partnership between the town and school division.

“It truly has been a collaborative effort,” said Lovell. “We’re really thankful with this announcement we can address a major need in the Town of Blackfalds, and with the growth rate they’re experiencing, it really allows us to enhance our offering within the town. We really appreciate their efforts to reach this point.”

In a release, WCPS Board Chair Pam Hansen called the annoucement a “tremendous first step towards a high school in Blackfalds,” and said it will “allow families the assurance that as their children grow they can attend school in their own community, and with WCPS, from Kindergarten to graduation.

“We truly appreciate Minister LaGrange, Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure for recognizing this need, and look forward to moving ahead to make this school a reality,” said Hansen.

Details will be made available as the project moves forward.

Previously announced school projects across the province will also carry on, with $1.4 billion over the next four years allocated for them, which includes Father Lacombe Catholic School’s modernization in Lacombe. A total of $123 million will go towards 250 new modular classrooms to address urgent space needs.

There are over 60 projects underway in the province, and 27 are expected to be completed for the 2020-21 school year.

“We made a promise to Albertans that our government will continue to build new schools, and we are doing exactly that,” said Minister of Education and MLA for Red Deer-North Adriana Lagrange in a release.

“Through our significant investment in new schools, replacements, modernizations and infrastructure upkeep, our children will continue to learn in up-to-date and safe spaces. This will result in better success in our classrooms. The future is bright for Alberta students.”