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Fort Macleod No. 1 in facility priorities

Livingstone Range School Division wants $18-million in provincial funding so two Fort Macleod schools can be modernized and another closed.
Trustees voted March 13 to make W.A. Day a Kindergarten to Grade 5 school and F.P. Walshe a Grade 6-12 school.
G.R. Davis school would be closed as part of a move to cut costs and improve operations.
“It’s only a starting point for funding,” Livingstone Range superintendent Ellie Elliott said of the plan approved by trustees. “Then the work of what it will look like begins.”
The facilities plan was laid out in detail March 20 at a tri-school council meeting at G.R. Davis school.
Elliott and associate superintendent of business Jeff Perry provided about 50 parents and staff from all three Fort Macleod schools with background leading up to the decision.
“A decision had to be made,” Elliott said, explaining Fort Macleod facilities are Livingstone Range’s No. 1 priority, and a plan had to be submitted for consideration by the province for funding.
Perry explained the process began as far back as 2000 when Livingstone Range did a study of schools in every community in the division.
In 2005-’06 a series of meetings with Fort Macleod stakeholders led to the decision that when provincial money is available G.R. Davis school will be closed and W.A. Day and F.P. Walshe schools modernized.
The decision to close one school is driven by low utilization rates for three schools built to house 1,800 students.
At present G.R. Davis school has a utilization rate of 31 per cent, while W.A. Day school has a rate of 49 per cent. F.P. Walshe school has a utilization rate of 54 per cent.
“These rates are considered significantly low,” Perry said.
Alberta Education considers a school that has a utilization rate of 85 per cent to be “full,” Perry explained.
The student population in Livingstone Range is steadily declining, with a further drop of 138 children forecast for next year that will reduce government funding for operations by another $52,000.
The school division is predicting enrollment in Fort Macleod will drop by 18 students next year.
“We know that as we continue to operate the three schools, the costs continue to rise,” Perry said of utilities and other operating costs. “Funds are going down, resources are dwindling, yet operating costs continue to rise.”
When the province awarded the school division money to modernize Willow Creek Composite high school in Claresholm, Fort Macleod schools became the No. 1 priority.
In February Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure sent a facilitator to lead a value management session at the Fort Macleod schools, which involved trustees, school division management, school council chairs, town council, First Nations representatives and other community members.
That session reaffirmed the 2006 recommendation to close G.R. Davis and modernize W.A. Day and F.P. Walshe schools.
The school board considered grouping Kindergarten to Grade 6 at W.A. Day and maintaining Grade 7-12 at F.P. Walshe at a cost of more than $19-million to modernize the two schools. Operating costs would be $43-million, compared to the $53-million it costs to operate all three schools.
The other option of putting Kindergarten to Grade 5 at W.A. Day and adding Grade 6 to the mix at F.P. Walshe would cost about $18-million for modernization. Operating costs would also be lower at $41-million.
Perry explained that in order to add Grade 4-6 to the present Kindergarten to Grade 3 mix, three portables would be needed at W.A. Day school.
Perry explained there is a need for more than 300 portables at schools across the province, but only 75 portables are being built every two years.
“Our ability to get portables is going to be very challenging,” Perry said.
Portables are not needed if only Grade 4 and Grade 5 are added to W.A. Day school. The school would be at 70 per cent utilization, providing room for growth.
Adding just the Grade 4 and Grade 5 classes would allow community wrap-around programs, such as preschool, to remain at W.A. Day school.
Trustees at their March 13 board meeting voted to make W.A. Day a Kindergarten to Grade 5 school, and add Grade 6 to F.P. Walshe school.
“This is to get us in the queue to get approved for a project,” Perry said.
Elliott stressed there is still opportunity for community input into the grade configuration at the schools.

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