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Growing need

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With the jump in the city’s population from 39,822 in 2010 to 70,564 in 2019, it comes as no surprise yet another school division in Airdrie is saying it needs a new facility built to address growing enrolment.

Though these schools need to be built as soon as possible, limited education funding has put the feasibility of securing approval, and thus, money into question.

When the province announced 25 new school projects in 2019 – none of which were for Airdrie – Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda said new and modernized schools are “ of the most important investments the government of Alberta can make in our children’s future and in the future of this province.” That may be true, but the dollars are not flowing.

One option utilized by five of the 2019 school projects was public-private partnerships (P3), wherein the design, build, financing and maintaining of the building are contracted to a private partner, and the facility is leased to the public partner.

While the government contends P3s saves the public sector money and deliver a finished facility faster than traditionally-funded builds, not everyone sings its praise.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees claimed the model is “expensive and risky,” and found the budgets for 18 P3 school builds had more than doubled from January 2007 to December 2008.

Other critics say the model has led to poorly-managed school grounds and slow repair processes, and leaves taxpayers on the hook to pay borrowing interest for 30+ years.

School boards will have to wrestle with tough decisions to ensure schools are built, but built they must be.