The date for the move into the Powerhouse Campus has been announced, and while some families are excited for the change, others are not looking forward to it.

Amanda Fynn and Corey Peebles, two members of the Drayton Valley Christian Society, which is similar to parent councils in other schools, say they are hoping to convince the Wild Rose School Division to hold off on moving Drayton Christian School until 2026 to fully evaluate the capacity level of the new campus.

Despite their concerns, it’s unlikely they will be granted those two years. The school division gets the keys on December 15, and students at the two schools are set to move in after an extended Christmas break. They won’t attend school on Friday, December 22, Monday, January 8 or Tuesday, January 9.

During that time, the division will be working to move the two schools over to the Powerhouse Campus.

Greg Wedman, the deputy superintendent of the school division, says that demolishing both of the old H.W. Pickup and Eldorado buildings was part of the agreement with the contractors. He says if the government were to back out of that contract, they would have to pay a penalty.

Currently Alberta Infrastructure has the school built for 683 students, with all six modulars in place. That number does not include the staff at the school. At the end of the 2022/23 school year, there were 234 students enrolled in DCS and 433 in H.W. Pickup. If the numbers are similar this year, that would leave the school at a 97 percent capacity rate.

“There are six [modulars] added and they’re already full,” says Fynn.

“There is no place to put any others,” says Peebles.

They say that this year DCS is only running K-8 to align with the other schools, but they are still sitting at 215 students.

“We started out at 207 and within the first two-and-a-half weeks we’d already increased by another seven,” says Fynn.

Alberta Education guidelines stipulate that schools should be built at an 85 percent capacity rate or higher, says Wedman. However, he says the division also needs to consider the utilization rate for the schools.

The utilization rate for students is calculated on a specific square footage of instructional space per student. According to the Alberta Government website, students in a K-9 school would each need 3.61 m2 of instructional space.

Essentially, the capacity of the school is dependent upon how much instructional space there is for each student. If a building is 5,000 m2 and 4,000 m2 is instructional space, there would be room for roughly 1,000 students.

Currently, the Powerhouse Campus sits at 94 percent utilization rate.

Another factor that comes into consideration is the growth rate of a community. Wedman says Alberta Infrastructure provides the population numbers and projections for the division. Those numbers show that the population of Drayton Valley dropped from 7,426 in 2016 to 6,863 in 2021.

But those numbers are different from what Stats Canada shows, which is an increase from 7,235 in 2016 to 7,291 in 2021. However, Wedman says even if they went by those numbers, the increase in population isn’t significant enough to make a difference.

“We don’t always agree with [the numbers],” says Wedman, “but they’ve been proven to be right more often than not.”

Both organizations gather their data in a different manner than the other. They also both have different calculation rates.

Peebles and Fynn say they have both talked to the school division about their concerns and when they didn’t feel heard there, they approached the Minister of Education, Demetrios Nicolaides.

“He seemed surprised at what we had to show him,” says Fynn.

“In 2019, [the school division] projected the enrolments to have a severe drop.”

However, their predictions were wrong. Since 2017, there has been an increase of more than 200 students enrolled in those grades. Most of that increase took place between 2019 and 2020.

WRSD superintendent Brad Volkman says in an email interview there is no need for concern if there is continued growth in enrolment. Aurora Elementary is at 81 percent, Evergreen Elementary is at 79 percent and Frank Maddock is at 50 percent.

“As you can see, opening Powerhouse campus at 95 percent utilization will not in the long term be a problem. If we experience growth in enrolment, we have plenty of space in our other schools. We can also request portables for both Aurora and Evergreen when needed,” he says.

He says the reason for increasing the utilization rate for schools is to ensure they continue to get maximum funding for maintaining the schools. Alberta Education requires 85 percent utilization for full funding. Anything under that may hinder the division’s ability to afford the upkeep on the school.

Wedman says if needed the division could also move the Grade 8 students to FMHS in the future.

He says it’s also possible for schools to run at over utilization. “There are schools in Spruce Grove running at 115 percent utilization capacity,” he says. “It’s not ideal, and only used as a last resort, but it is doable.”

In those cases, the division would then look at converting non-instructional spaces to instructional spaces to accommodate the growing numbers.

Another concern for Peebles and Fynn is that DCS will be located in the modulars and there will only be seven bathroom stalls for that location. They are concerned the younger students will be intimidated sharing a bathroom with an older student.

Wedman says the division has done what they can to address this issue by situating some of the younger H.W. Pickup classes closer to the modulars and having the higher grade DCS students moved to the other side of the building.

Fynn and Peebles also mentioned at the time of their interview on the morning of Monday, December 11, that the board had made promises of adequate field space, securing additional playground space and more space for special needs students and the specialists that work with them.

WRSD released a statement on the afternoon of December 11 giving the move in date and indicating they had purchased a parcel of land just east of the new campus.

The Free Press reached out to the Minister of Education before publication, but did not hear back before the submission deadline.

By Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 14, 2023 at 11:45

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Drayton Valley, Alberta

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