Sherwood Heights replacement left off province's new school builds list

The EIPS 2020-23 three-year capital plan pegged the cost of replacing Sherwood Heights Junior High School at around $28-million. Travis Dosser/News Staff

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The 2019 Alberta budget has been a tough pill to swallow for Elk Island Public Schools and another announcement on new school constructions isn’t making it any easier.

On Friday, Nov. 1, the UCP government announced 25 new school projects for the province but conspicuously absent from the list was a replacement for Sherwood Heights Junior High in Sherwood Park.

“I had tears in my eyes and it was so hard to see we didn’t make the list. We worked really hard in working together what we think was a proposal that would benefit Sherwood Park,” explained EIPS board chair Trina Boymook. “We have a school building in dire need and at risk of major component failure. It is going to be really hard to tell the parents we didn’t get it because they were really counting on it.”

Sherwood Heights is the top priority for EIPS now that Wye Elementary is in the process of being replaced by the under construction Heritage Hills Elementary, which is scheduled to be opened in fall 2020. Boymook said she is really disappointed the province is not providing funding for a replacement for the school, which has a very long list of problems.

“Our students are in classrooms that reach unbearable heat temperatures in certain sections of the building and frigid temperatures in others. We can’t regulate heat in the building and during the winter in some classrooms students have to wear their winter jackets, touques and mitts and on the same day, there are students who feel like they’re in Bermuda because of the heat,” Boymook said. “We have 600 students there and we will start planning for what to do if the heat goes down and we can’t get it back up again. The parts don’t exist anymore for the furnace because it is an old system and we have pinholes in all our copper piping in the building and that is something that cannot be repaired. Quite honestly if we go through major component failure, we will have to go to the government for emergency IMR funds, which would be a substantial multi-million bill.”

Some of the issues that students and staff deal with include heating problems in many classrooms, with some too hot and others much too cold. EIPS can no longer get replacement parts and if the boiler system stops working. Travis Dosser/News Staff

The school needs to be replaced because of all these problems and there is no way to rehabilitate it. Other than the problematic and ancient heating system, there is no sprinkler system, the railings are too short, and there are many other problems that make a new school necessary.

“Once you slice into a building, there are all sorts of surprises waiting for you behind the drywall,” Boymook said. “This school is not a modernization because we can see the overruns all over it and quite honestly when they decide whether it will be a modernization or replacement school they take a look at the cost of modernization and bringing it to code and if it reaches 75 per cent or more of the cost to replace it, it is replaced and we are above that cost.”

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and local UCP MLAs Nate Glubish and Jordan Walker toured the 60-year-old school in September, led by Boymook, to get a first-hand look at the need. EIPS’ 2020-23 three-year capital plan estimated the cost to replace Sherwood Heights would be $28-million.

Boymook and the board thought the plan for a new school would be a slam-dunk with the province because of the need and the partnerships set up Strathcona County for recreation and another partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Strathcona County (BGSCS).

“We were going to partner with them and built on an additional 10,000 square feet to the building and allow them to expand the services to the community in Strathcona County,” Boymook said.

The BGCSC will now have to look elsewhere for a new facility.

“We are very disappointed,” Ty Roed, executive director of BGSCS said in an email. “A new Sherwood Heights School would have been great for all parties involved and would have been very beneficial to our community in so many ways. We respect the outcome and we will continue to work with EIPS and all of our community partners and we will not lose our focus of creating amazing opportunities for children and youth in Strathcona County.”

The EIPS board of trustees even tried to sweeten the deal for the province by putting up the money for the design of the new school, which could cost anywhere from $750,000 to $1.25 million.

“We were going to do what no school board does (and pay for the design) because this is desperate for us — we just couldn’t afford for us to wait. We needed to do something we thought would be appealing to the government, but it didn’t work,” Boymook said.

Boymook said it is very sad for the students, parents, the teachers and the EIPS as a whole because the community needs a new school. The replacement facility would have the capacity for 900 students.

“I understand there is a lot of pressure throughout the province and every school board has their story as well but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re disappointed,” Boymook said.

With no replacement on the horizon for at least the next four years, Boymook hopes the building can survive.

“If we go through major component failure and can’t get the system back up and running then we will be going to the government for emergency funds to have them fix it, which will be a hefty bill and we did communicate that to the government,” the board chair stated. “We’re not talking $1-million, we’re talking multi-millions of dollars to come in and fix the system.”