The Rocky View Schools (RVS) board of trustees is requesting 18 new modular units from Alberta Education to address space utilization in Cochrane and Airdrie schools for the 2022-23 school year – including two for Mitford/Cochrane Christian School and four at Fireside School.
Additions of modular classrooms have been a short-term fix across much of the division, which is facing high student utilization, especially in Cochrane and Airdrie.
Board chair Fiona Gilbert, who also serves as Cochrane's Ward 6 trustee, said that the real issue is a need for new schools.
"We didn't ask for any modulars for Bow Valley High School and the reason for that is were are very hopeful the government will give us the expansion that we've been asking for over the last number of years – that is number one on our capital plan," she said. "Because Bow Valley High School will also be over 100 per cent capacity very soon."
The board approved the submission for new modulars classrooms in their Oct. 28 organizational meeting, where it was also reported that both Mitford/Cochrane Christian School and Fireside School currently sit at 101 per cent utilization and 96 per cent utilization, respectively.
Both schools top the modular priority list based on current capacity and projected growth, above Airdrie's Northcott Prairie and George McDougall High School, which are the only other schools where modulars have been requested, with six for each.
Without the addition of the requested portables, Mitford's space utilization is expected to grow to 103 per cent by 2022 and 104 per cent in 2023. Fireside's student growth rate projects 104 per cent utilization in 2022 and 114 per cent by 2023, should the Province not approve the requests to obtain all units.
Gilbert added the four portables for Fireside were already in planning since the school's opening in 2017 because it is currently home to many young families, but that could change over time.
"Right now, Fireside is booming with young kids. Twenty years from now, maybe not as much...similar to RancheView School [in Sunset Ridge], you build a core and then as the community grows, you build your school, you add more on to the school," she said.
For Fireside, the additional four planned units would max out the building at a 900-person capacity. Gilbert mentioned that despite capacities, schools do typically have some flexibility to get creative with space usage if need be, using spaces like libraries or band rooms to host classes, which she acknowledged is less than ideal.
"Space has a direct impact on students' ability to learn," she said. "If there's not a classroom for them, well then sometimes they might be in the band room or they might be in the learning commons. We have to get creative as to where kids can learn and so that definitely has an impact on their learning."
Gilbert said she remains hopeful Alberta Education will approve RVS' requests, as each modular classroom is necessary to address growth in the four Airdrie and Cochrane schools, all of which will likely reach or surpass 100 per cent capacity within the next year based on current enrolment projections.
But the demand across the province for space and modulars far exceeds the number of dollars that are in the modular program, explained Gilbert.
"Typically we don't get anywhere near what we asked for," she said.
"One of our advocacy priorities as a board is space for students in Rocky View Schools – particularly in Cochrane but also in Airdrie – we have overcrowded schools and we know that."
Rocky View schools in Cochrane sit at a 90 per cent overall capacity, Gilbert added, meaning 90 per cent of the seats for students are full.
"We do have a need for space and modulars offer short-term relief," she said. "They're not supposed to be permanent fixes.
"Really, what we need in Cochrane are new schools."
Last year, RVS requested 31 new modular units and eight relocations from the Province to provide space relief where needed across the division. Of that number, 16 new units and nine relocations were approved. Manachaban Middle School received all four of the amount originally requested, plus a portable washroom, and six of the seven requests for Bow Valley High School were also granted.
Despite submitting requests for modular additions almost a year ahead of time, Gilbert said if they are approved by the provincial government, in her experience, they are rarely ready to go by the start of the following school year.
"The ones at Bow Valley that are going in now – it's already mid-November – and they're not accessible to students," she said. "Very soon they should be, in the next couple of weeks...but very seldom are they ready for September."