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Board approves new capital plan

The Northern Lights Public School Board of Trustees has approved an updated Capital Plan for the division.

“While we have seen some progress with the top priority in our capital plan, that project has not been approved for construction yet,” explained Board Chair Karen Packard. “We will continue to advocate for approval of that project, while also highlighting the fact that we have other projects that also need immediate attention.”

The division’s top capital priority is a replacement school for Vera M. Welsh Elementary School in Lac La Biche. This project has been on the Board’s capital plan for over 20 years. It was approved for design funding in 2023, but was not included in the projects approved for construction in the recent provincial budget. The school has an underground spring that runs through its mechanical room and is located adjacent to railroad tracks. The proposed replacement school would be built near the Bold Centre.

“Our next step is to request a meeting with the Education Minister so we can make him aware of the project and the urgency to have it move forward,” said Packard. “Families in Lac La Biche have been waiting patiently for many years for this project to be approved. We don’t want them to wait any longer for a safe, modern facility where their children can thrive.”

The Board changed its second priority from a replacement school for North Star Elementary School in Cold Lake to a more comprehensive solution to address infrastructure needs in Cold Lake South. In addition to addressing capacity and programming issues at North Star, the solution would also look at options for Art Smith Aviation Academy which is located on the military base in a facility that is nearing the end of its lifespan. It would also look at the possibility of addressing some deficiencies at Cold Lake Junior High.

“Restricting our capital request to a replacement school for North Star would not properly address the issues we are experiencing in the community and the fact that we may need to find a new space to accommodate the students that are currently at Art Smith,” explained Packard. “We need to examine what all of our options are to meet the needs of the community to determine the best path forward.”

The third priority on the Capital Plan is a new school for Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement. Currently, Buffalo Lake is the only Metis settlement in Alberta that does not have a school. The Board recently met with Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement Council and will be exploring ways they can work together to move this project forward. A new school in Buffalo Lake would replace the current Caslan School, which is the school most students from Buffalo Lake attend.

A modernization at Ecole Plamondon School is the fourth priority in the Capital Plan. This is a project, which, like Vera M. Welsh Elementary School in Lac La Biche, has been on the capital plan for over 20 years. The division constructed an addition at the school in 2009 to address some of the deficiencies, but it still lacks space to meet K-12 programming requirements. In addition, the building is aging and needs significant upgrades to things like plumbing, windows, and an air handling unit. Last summer, three portables were determined to be structurally unsound and NLPS has now requested permission to demolish them. 

“We are close to the point where what was originally proposed as a modernization may actually need to be a replacement project,” said Packard. “The longer it sits on our capital plan, the more the building deteriorates and the cost to fix things increases.”

Alberta Education requires school boards to submit an updated Capital Plan at the end of March each year. Capital plans outline school division priorities for new schools, replacement schools, and major modernization projects. While they are referred to as three-year plans, including a project in a capital plan does not mean it will be completed within those three years, or even that it will be done at all. Alberta Education decides which projects get approved for funding and when they will go ahead.