By Janet French, The StarPhoenix with Canadian Press files
The Saskatchewan government is planning to build 18 new elementary schools in the province, including eight in booming Saskatoon neighbourhoods, using a public-private partnership model.
The Saskatchewan Party said Tuesday that unprecedented growth in the Saskatoon and Regina areas is prompting the government to build nine new school buildings, each of which will house a public and a Catholic school. Each school building will share “programming opportunities” while the school divisions will share maintenance costs. The joint-use schools will be Catholic on one side, public on the other.
According to the government, schools will be built in Saskatoon neighbourhoods Evergreen, Hampton Village, Rosewood and Stonebridge; one each in Martensville and Warman; plus three in Regina: Harbour Landing, a northwest location and a southeast location.
"We're going to move forward with all of them at once," said Premier Brad Wall during Tuesday's announcement at Saskatoon's Dundonald elementary school, where he was joined by Education Minister Don Morgan.According to Wall, the traditional construction costs of the nine buildings would be around $450 million. He said the government is hoping to save a minimum of $30 million under the P3 model. Wall said request-for-proposals are being written starting immediately and will last for around six months. He was hoping to have shovels in the ground within 18 months. According to Morgan, if they are able to follow that timeline, each of the 18 schools would be open in approximately three years. “Saskatchewan is experiencing remarkable growth across the province, and some of it is right in the classroom,” Wall said in a statement. “We need to meet the challenges of growth and have adequate infrastructure in place. This approach will put our students first, provide them with the best learning environments, and do so much quicker than government could build schools the conventional way.”
School divisions in Saskatoon, Martensville and Warman have long been pushing for new suburban schools since enrolment began to climb in 2007. According to a government background document, K-8 enrolment increased 77 per cent in Warman, 14 per cent in Saskatoon, and 48 per cent in Martensville between 2007 and 2013. Both Saskatoon public and Catholic divisions say they’ve been growing by the equivalent of one school’s worth of children every year, with no new buildings to put them in.
Both Saskatoon public and Catholic divisions have said new elementary schools in Hampton Village and Stonebridge top their lists, and Prairie Spirit School Division says it could use new elementary schools in Warman and Martensville immediately.
As some new suburbs approach completion, pressure has mounted on existing elementary schools.
Valley Manor school in Martensville is so over capacity, the staff room is now a classroom, and the school stage is a temporary staff room. With no room for a music classroom, instruments are loaded onto a cart and roll from room to room.
In Saskatoon’s west end, St. Peter school is over capacity with 636 pupils as of Sept. 30. Last year, it had to renovate gym change rooms to more bathrooms for students. It’s also running out of space to add more modular classrooms. Across the field, Dundonald school had 727 pupils on Sept. 30. Seven busloads of children arrive there every morning from Hampton Village.
Under the P3 model, a private company will either design, finance, build and/or maintain the buildings, with, in this case, the government and school divisions essentially leasing the buildings from that company.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association — which represents public, separate and francophone school divisions — says it welcomes the funding announcement for new school facilities. But the association also says it’s concerned that there isn’t a plan to address long-term needs for education infrastructure.
“We have heard from students and staff over the past few years that the growth pressures in some areas of the province have caused overcrowded classrooms,” said association president Janet Foord. “Thankfully, announcements such as this one will alleviate some of those concerns.
“But there’s more to do across the province and working in partnership with the Ministry of Education and other sector partners is necessary to address the long-term concerns.”
For example, the association says about 75 per cent of roofing in Saskatchewan schools will fail within the next five years. It also notes that the average age of the buildings is about 50 years.
Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten said he doesn’t have an ideological opposition to the P3 model in education.
But decisions about building schools need to be cost-effective, fill the right need and be done in a timely way, he said.
“We can look at the bundling approach when it was pursued in Alberta, which caused many problems for schools not actually meeting the local needs within the community with respect to being customized in order to have community groups access,” Broten said.
“Also in terms of relocatables or portables being added on or taken away from the schools, so there’s some real restrictions in that context with bundling,” said Broten. “We know that we need new schools, the question is how do we do this in the best possible way.”
Buildings the government intends to construct are:
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Martensville
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Warman
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Saskatoon’s Hampton Village neighbourhood
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Saskatoon’s Stonebridge neighbourhood
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Saskatoon’s Evergreen neighbourhood
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Saskatoon’s Rosewood neighbourhood
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Regina’s Harbour Landing neighbourhood
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Regina’s northwest
• Joint public/Catholic elementary schools in Regina’s southeast