Alberta advances education capital projects

Alberta will move forward with the building of 55 new schools and 20 modernisations – part of a broader programme aimed at meeting the demands of its growing population.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said the government of the Canadian province is allocating C$43 million (€30.27 million; $38.37 million) to school boards for the immediate planning for 55 new schools and 20 further modernisations, phase 3 of a capital build-out of new schools that began in 2010 and which includes 230 projects.

The decision for the immediate allocation was based on the needs of the province which is seeing its population grow from roughly 3.7 million in 2010 to an expected 4.7 million by 2020.

According to Prentice, the growth in population translates into an increase of the student population with schools in Edmonton and Calgary having to accommodate 5,000 new students each annually over the next seven years.

“Essentially, we’re reporting today on the most expansive infrastructure commitment that we have seen really in Alberta history and clearly one of the most important,” Prentice said during a recent press conference.

A four-member cabinet committee consisting of Minister of Infrastructure Manmeet Bhullar, Education Minister Gordon Dirks, Minister Diana McQueen and Minister Jeff Johnson is tasked with overseeing the project and working closely with school boards and municipalities to speed up the process by expediting permitting and other approvals.

Asked whether public-private partnerships (PPP; P3) will be an option for delivery of these projects, Prentice responded: “The cabinet has been given the flexibility to consider design-builds, to consider P3s, to consider innovative partnerships – to consider any one of four possible ways to construct these projects. The intent is to have a cabinet committee that is very focused on execution.”

Describing it as a “massive undertaking”, Prentice reiterated that the cabinet committee “needs to have the flexibility to engage in creative ways and innovative ways to mix and match in terms of the approach we follow.”

Phase 1 of the programme, announced in 2011, includes 35 schools, of which 31 are complete. Phase 2, announced in 2013, includes 50 new schools and 70 modernisations – all but five of which will be able to accept students by 2016. The entire programme is expected to be completed by 2020.