August 14th, 2020

School boards splitting $5.5M in provincial funding

By COLLIN GALLANT on May 22, 2020.

Local school divisions will split $5.5 million in provincial funding aimed at spearheading upgrades and maintenance projects to boost the economy after the pandemic.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

Nearly $5.5 million is going to three school boards in the Medicine Hat region to accelerate maintenance projects as part of a provincial plan to stir up economic activity.

The province announced $250 million in new funding for boards across Alberta on Wednesday following an early April statement that spending would be coming in several areas to create jobs and get capital work underway.

Specific to city boards, $2.95 million is allocated for the Public School Division and $2.5 million for the local Catholic Board of Education. Another $1 million in new funds will go to the regional Prairie Rose School Division.

MHCBE officials tell the News that the funds means an in-place plan to modernize building systems across the district will proceed in full this summer.

That process, done in partnership with Johnson Controls, will see mechanical, lighting and security systems upgraded in all buildings, and several boilers and ventilation systems, replaced with the goal of increasing utility savings.

“It will have a significant effect on our operating budget,” Greg MacPherson, the board’s secretary-treasurer, said on Thursday, estimating the annual savings at $73,000 once work is done.

“It gives us the ability to finance all (the work) immediately and drive the savings back into our operating budget.”

The local program will see lighting throughout all MHCBE buildings converted to lower-energy LED fixtures, and new, high-efficiency boilers will be installed in four schools: St. Patrick’s, St. Mary’s, St. Michael’s and St. Francis-Xavier.

It was already approved but the board was to be paying for it partly out of the normal maintenance budget as well as through borrowing.

Now the project will be fully funded, meaning a standing maintenance budget can be “redeployed” according to MacPherson, and borrowing costs are avoided.

The Medicine Hat Public Board submitted a list of 14 projects to the province during a quick call for proposals, say officials.

It totalled $7.6 million of mainly life-cycle replacements, mechanical upgrades, asphalt replacement and other standard maintenance project projects.

“Over the next week, our facilities team will assess priorities and determine the projects that will fit best into the dollar amount provided and which can be facilitated at an accelerated pace,” said Jerry Labossiere, the secretary treasurer for the Public School Division.

The Prairie Rose School Division plans to use the funds to replace the roof on the Prairie Mennonite Alternative School in Medicine Hat and replace the irrigation system at Parkside Elementary in Redcliff. Funds will also be used to complete exterior work on Foremost School, and replace furnaces at South Central High School in Oyen.

A total of $250 million will be spent across the province as part of Alberta Education’s plan to move up standard construction and refurbishment projects. The work is expected to add 3,750 construction jobs over the next five months.

Last month, Premier Jason Kenney, Transport Minister Ric McIver and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda announced $2 billion would be added to the province’s capital plan for roads, schools and other government buildings.

“We’re getting Albertans back to work by investing in hundreds of infrastructure and renewal projects in schools across the province,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange in a statement this week. “This is great news for staff and students who will benefit from more modern learning environments.”

Specific to the schools announcement this week, another $2.5 million is being put toward projects of the Southern Francophone Education region, which operates in Medicine Hat. That board plans to open a nearly complete new school in September in the community of Saamis. New school construction is not a part of the current program.

In the wider region, another $2.5 million is allowed for the Grasslands School Division and $2.66 million for Christ the Redeemer School Division, both based in Brooks. A total of $1.2 million will go to the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate School Division, which includes St. Michael’s in Bow Island.

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