Each year, school divisions across the province are required to submit a Three-Year Capital Plan to Alberta Education. All school divisions are also required to have a 10-Year Capital Plan on file that is approved by the School Board.
NLPS 2020-2023 Capital Plan
Some things should be noted when reading the document, including the following:
- The Capital Plans are a list of capital priorities that the Board would like the Provincial Government to fund. They are a “wish list” submitted to the Government for consideration in its infrastructure planning process. The Government decides which projects are approved for funding and when they will go ahead.
- The School Division does not receive annual funding that it can use to construct new schools or do major renovations to an existing school. The School Board cannot requisition funds from taxpayers to pay for new schools or major renovations. If projects do not receive approval from the Provincial Government, the School Division cannot move forward with construction.
- While the plans are referred to as a Three-Year and 10-Year Capital Plan respectively, that does not mean that all, or any, of the projects will actually be approved or completed within that timeframe. Sometimes it takes many years for a project to be approved, even if it is ranked at the top of the School Division’s Capital Plan.
- While the plan includes scheduled start dates, end dates, and costs, those are estimates and suggestions only. The dates are determined based on how quickly the Division wants to move forward with the project and how quickly construction could start if the project was approved immediately. The dates usually also reflect any work that has already been done to move the project forward, such as negotiating a location with a municipality. The suggested dates and costs are used to help the Provincial Government assess the project and determine whether or not to approve it. If, and when, the Government approves a project, it will determine the actual timelines and budget for that project.
- The School Division is required to rank all of the projects, but that does not mean that the projects will proceed in that order. For instance, a modernization project, which is a renovation of an existing facility, may move forward before the construction of a new school. This could be due to a variety of factors, including cost. As well, it is possible for priorities to shift, particularly if there are emergent issues that increase or decrease the urgency of a particular project.
If you have any questions about the Northern Lights Public Schools Three-Year and 10-Year Capital Plans, please feel free to contact our Division Office in Bonnyville.
Summary of Facilities and Capital Plans 2019-2020
Over the past several years, facilities and capital planning has been challenging, and 2019-20 was no different. Although there was no significant change in capital priorities per se, there were a number of other operational challenges and work on capital priorities.
Construction was underway on the BCHS modernization, but that did not occur until part way through the year. This late start required ongoing negotiations for the lease space for decanting of the students. These conversations not only require negotiation with the landlord, but also with Alberta Infrastructure, as it is an additional cost to the project budget.
NLPS continued to work with Lac La Biche County on sports field development, which required a financial commitment in the form of a transfer of a couple of parcels of land. This was a long-anticipated project as J. A. Williams High School relocated in the fall of 2014 to its replacement site with no developed outdoor field space. This had serious impacts on planning for school use, not to mention the impact to students. Construction on the sports fields adjacent to the school commenced in the spring of 2019, and is not yet fully completed. However, the transfer of land required subdivision, access roads and GoA approvals. During this time, a facility on one parcel was the subject of arson, which led to the need to demolish the building prior to transfer. This costly event is still underway and involves asbestos remediation.
With respect to the three-year capital plan, NLPS held steady with the priorities listed from the prior year and continues to advocate for a replacement school for the NLPS number one priority, Vera M. Welsh Elementary School. The priority of NLPS was broadened to include a Lac La Biche solution for all three school divisions operating in the community. This required ongoing consultation and collaboration of the Board of Trustees and Administration with the local sister boards.
Enrolment increases over the past several years in the City of Cold Lake have caused utilization pressures on four schools in city, while two schools are operating well below capacity. The extent of the pressures is such that in 2023- 24 we anticipate that two schools would be at or near capacity, with two more following very close behind. Therefore, a process to reconfigure all the schools in the City was embarked upon. In 2019-20, a committee was struck made up of parent representatives and the principals of each school. The committee’s mandate was to determine options to take to the larger community for public consultation, with the intent of seeking Board approval at the end of a one to two year process. The committee work was completed in February and public consultations were planned, but due to the pandemic, the consultations were shelved until the fall.
In March of 2020, the operations of the Facilities department took on a whole new aspect. Preparing the facilities and ensuring safety of students and staff was underway. Once schools were closed to the public, this largely reduced the strain on custodial services, but still required discussion with schools where staff were still on site and negotiations with contractors on existing contracts. Reducing services could have had the potential of having to source new contractors, a task more daunting during a pandemic when demand for these services increased.
The impact of the hardening of the insurance market also played havoc with not only Facilities, but with the Division as a whole. With the large, unprecedented increase in insurance premiums on the property market in November of 2019, much of the planned activities of the Facilities department needed to be modified to align with the reduction in available funds. The savings in the budget as a result of the sweeping custodial contract changes were consumed by the insurance increase. The ramifications of the insurance on the budget of the entire Division was felt by all departments, and required a major re-write of the budget.
With a new funding model being contemplated, a mid-year decision to proceed with a renovation of the Division Office in Bonnyville was approved with the intent of making changes to the design to allow for more on-site learning opportunities. Over the past several years, funds were being set aside with the intention that, at some point, a major renovation would occur.
Lastly, with the introduction of the Capital Maintenance Renewal program in the spring, NLPS submitted a request for capital improvements to three school sites. The decision to avoid operational related activities was intentional, as the impacts to future IMR funds was not known. Although the intent was to put Albertans back to work and as such the work was contracted out, the project management was still overseen by the Facilities department. The three projects included exterior upgrade at Ardmore School and Bonnyville Outreach school, and addressing security and accessibility at Cold Lake Middle School.
All in all, it was a busy year for the Facility department in managing work through a pandemic. Managing staff and custodial concerns, coupled with the financial demands caused by the insurance increases, modernizations and renovations, made this one of the most challenging years on record.