May 25th, 2024

Coaldale council hears implications of moving school site

By Erika Mathieu - SOUTHERN ALBERTA NEWSPAPERS on November 18, 2021.

SOUTHERN ALBERTA NEWSPAPERS PHOTO Excavation, road work and servicing is underway at the site of the future recreation centre and high school in Coaldale.


Mayor Jack Van Rijn posed the question of relocation to Palliser School’s secretary-treasurer Dexter Durfey during a Coaldale council meeting earlier this month, “if council was to decide that they wanted to move the school what is Palliser’s position on that?” Durfey said the project has already incurred costs that would not be recovered. Durfey explained, “Palliser would have expectation that would be the town’s responsibility. We did have a viable agreement in place and the province approved money based on that agreement. We would have to decide how that money would come back into the project.”
Most of the expenditures to date on the project could not be recovered at this stage, explained Durfey, noting this sum of irrecoverable expenses, “is over $6.6 million. $2.3 million is the Palliser portion and $4.2 million, including servicing and roads, is the Town of Coaldale’s portion. That money is already gone (to the project).”
Excavation on the contentious “site A” location of the hybrid rec centre and high school has already been done, in addition to awarding the piles and foundations to contractors as well as a $6 million steel order placed within the past two weeks.
“In terms of what has been spent today, if everything is moved to another site, those are already expenditures made that wont be recouped,” explained Durfey.
Although several council members have historically been critical of the location of the project, the meeting revealed some of the financial implications of abandoning the project at this stage.
The design process for the integrated recreation centre and high school in Coaldale began in September 2019, with the project announced in March 2021. Construction began in September of this year. The project, set to be completed by 2024, has been a polarizing project for many residents and leaders within the municipality due to the facility’s location.
The project boasts an 83,000 square foot high school which has been designed with a black box theatre, gymnasium, commercial kitchen, and wood and metal shops, combined with a 61,000 square fit recreation centre with amenities including a daycare, fitness centre, artificial turf sports field, multiple sport courts, a large concession room, and party rooms.
Dan Westward of FWBA Architects explained some of the features of the building were designed with site-specific considerations.
“As architects, we were asked to take advantage of all of the site’s opportunities (and) capitalize on the view.”
Coun. Lisa Reis voiced her concern that the location isn’t ideal for many residents.
“There are a lot of residents already living in Coaldale that enjoy walking around (the area) not having to look at (a facility). I’m speaking on behalf of citizens I have heard from.”
“We believe based on our best info there would be an $8.2 million increase in cost to move at this point,” replied Durfey.
He cited many of the features of the ongoing project are site-specific and would incur additional design costs, penalties for contracts that have already been awarded, and additional costs associated with roads and site servicing. Many of the building mechanics have been considered and designed as a hybrid rec centre and high school and therefore opting to move just the rec centre would also pose significant financial challenges since all HVAC, mechanics, and electrical have been designed with a shared space in mind.
Durfey estimated it would cost an additional $5.8 million to just move the rec centre, some of which would include redesigning the space as a singular facility.
“We have contracts where we don’t know what those penalties may be,” said Durfey.
If the town were to opt to relocate the facility, or the rec centre component of the facility, an additional complication of moving the project to another site is the funding component. Durfey explained that a, “quite serious and plausible (outcome) is that, the government approved the project because of the partnership (between Palliser and the Town), because the land was available, the land was granted by the town.” The province’s approval was initially contingent on the proposed partnership between the school district and the Town of Coaldale.
“Any disruption to that approval, we’re not sure the province’s reaction to that, if they would continue or put us back in a queue to wait. Obviously, the servicing and roads would not be ready at this point and the school division is on title so that for us is a very likely risk that we would jeopardize that school project at least in the near term, if not the long term.”
“There are a lot of citizens on either side of keeping it (the proposed facility) where it is or moving it to the south side,” Van Rijn said. “Speaking in favour of the motion, in good conscience, even though I am not particularly fond of site A, the project is well enough on its way, I just wanted an opportunity for citizens to hear the costs of what it would do to our tax rate by moving the project south of the highway.”
All councillors voted in favour of the motion to uphold the current location of the joint recreation centre and high school, with the exception of Coun. Jeff Beekman who opposed the motion.
Beekman expressed a desire to table the motion for an additional two weeks imploring, “are we ready to assume those risks? I am speaking against the motion, not the rec centre.”
Beekman expressed that many residents have previously voiced their concerns over the project.
“I would like to be able to give these facts back to the citizens. When this project was released three years ago, the citizens felt they had absolutely no voice, we have the chance to give them a voice.”
Deputy Mayor Jacen Abrey cautioned against reopening the discussion with the residents rather than examining the financial implications of abandoning the project at this stage.
“I think we’ve got to be careful with that as well because if you get their input and you still vote in favour of putting the school in this site, they’re going to say ‘you did not listen’.”

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