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Tuesday , 11 May 2021
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Vera M Walsh School. Image: Northern Lights Public Schools.

NLPS sets priorities for new schools and modernizations

Northern Lights Public Schools will be submitting their 3-Year and 10-Year capital plans to the province with familiar school sites at the top of their improvements list.

The NLPS Board must submit these long-term plans to the province annually as a “wish list” for the government to consider for modernization and construction builds.

A replacement school for Vera M. Walsh in Lac La Biche is the division’s top priority, while the modernization of Ecole Plamondon is second.

A new school for Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement and the modernization of North Star Elementary are third and fourth, respectively, the division’s 3-Year capital plans.

“Vera’s been on there for 20 years and Plamondon pretty much the same period of time,” said NLPS communications officer Nicole Garner.

“I think they were added at the same time. And we have of course had some priorities addressed within that time period, so Cold Lake Elementary, JAWS in Lac La Biche, and now the modernization at BCHS.”

Vera M. Walsh could be rebuilt in a different location, away from an underground spring that continues to run through the lower mechanical room. The cost of replacement would be $21 million to build new, instead of the five-year deferred maintenance costs of $11.8 million.

NLPS is hopeful that this situation could be addressed soon. They are teaming up with Lakeland Catholic School Division and East-Central Francophone to see if there are common needs that can be addressed with constructions plans and could leverage more support for the projects from the province.

Then the proposal could be pitched as a capital priority for all three school boards.

“We’ve got money for a consultant to look at the infrastructure needs of all of the school divisions in Lac La Biche and come up with a joint solution. So the plan there is we’re expecting actually any day now, or sometime in April-May, to get some options from the consultants for all of the board’s to look at and hopefully come to a consensus on one of them,” said Garner.

NLPS said Ecole Plamondon requires a modernization to complete improvements made to the facility to enhance programming. The school was built in 1965 and modernization would address health and safety, facility condition, and programming shortfalls. The budget is estimated at $14.6 million.

The third priority is requesting a new K-8 School on the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement to replace an aging school at the Caslan site. NLPS said it is the only Metis settlement in the province without a school and the local governance believes there could be the need for a K-12 school. Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement recently built a new community centre and are addressing growth within their community. The budget is estimated at $10.9 million.

North Star Elementary is being reconfigured to be a Kindergarten to Grade 6 school after the NLPS board deciphered ways to alleviate growing student enrollment in their Cold Lake schools.

Because of this, the scope of the work has changed for North Star. The total project would involve relocating the office and staff room, adding one classroom and expanding the gym, amongst other improvements. The budget projected is $12.8 million.

“Originally, it was a modernization, but it was to modernize it as a K-3 school, which it is now,” said Garner. “Now we’ve changed that because we know from configuration, that school becomes a K-6, so that changed the footprint of the modernization a little bit.”

Audits to address flooring, roofing, and fire alarms for H.E. Bourgoin, Kikino School, and Wandering River School round the division’s 10-Year plans.

As Garner says, these capital plans are submitted, but it’s the province that determines what gets built.

“It’s called a 3 and 10-Year capital plan but very rarely–we’ve never gotten through all the priorities in our 3-Year capital plan in the three years, nor are the ones in our 10-year plan in 10 years. In fact, something’s often on our plan for 10 years before it receives approval if not longer.”

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.