The Selinger government may deal with tight budgets and enormous concentrated population growth by building new regional schools to be shared by neighbouring school divisions.
The NDP may also take a longer look at using privately owned facilities to find or free up space -- though for off-campus and adult learning, not for kindergarten to Grade 12 schools.
"There is a budget situation here. We have to make some difficult choices," said deputy minister of education Gerald Farthing.
The province estimates a small school costs about $12 million to build, a high school up to $37 million. The expiring provincial capital budget saw the government spend $310 million over four years, and that includes numerous and expensive new gyms, science labs, new roofs, boilers, windows and upkeep of older buildings.
Some of the strongest demand for new schools comes from contiguous school divisions and communities.
Winkler and Morden each want two new schools, while Steinbach, Niverville and La Broquerie each want one.
In Winnipeg's northwest, Winnipeg S.D. wants a nursery to Grade 8 school in Waterford Green and a new high school on the west side of King Edward Street, while Seven Oaks S.D. wants an elementary school in Riverbend.
That proposed high school -- well down the list of WSD's priorities, but appearing on the priority list for the first time -- would be close to Sisler High School and Maples Collegiate, one-two as largest schools in Manitoba and on their way to 1,900 or more students.
Could Winnipeg and Seven Oaks share? Could Hanover and Seine River divisions share? Could Garden Valley and Western divisions share?
"That's a question that needs to be asked," Farthing said. "People outside the department are asking. We need to explore that with the school divisions. We might look for schools on a regional basis."
WSD said a new high school is 11th on its priority list, to be built on a property the division has owned for decades. The top WSD capital priority remains a second gym for Kelvin High School, followed by a nursery to Grade 8 school in the northwest, and additional classrooms for Sisler High School.
Farthing said it is unlikely Manitoba would follow Alberta's lead and lease privately built schools. However, divisions could increasingly use private space for off-campus and adult facilities, freeing up space in schools, as Seven Oaks did in moving its adult learning centre out of Maples Collegiate.
"We're open to that, but we're going to be very careful," Farthing said.
"We're going to keep building schools. The difficulty is obvious -- we have a budget," Farthing said. "It's going to get more difficult in the future. There's so much growth in some places, there's depopulation in other areas." The 2008 moratorium on closing schools remains, Farthing said. It is expensive to maintain older buildings but they will only be closed if the community supports closing a school, he said. That's what happened in Graysville, where about a dozen kids were left after parents transferred their children to a large school in Carman.
"The moratorium is still in place, but we'll look at requests on a case-by-case basis. If it comes without community support, it will probably come dead on arrival," said Farthing
"We want the parents and the community to be OK with it."
Farthing said hiring in the hog processing industry is drawing families to Neepawa, creating pressure for more classrooms.
The situation in La Broquerie is not as clear, he said. While Seine River SD wants a high school built, the division has to consider its high schools in Lorette and St. Norbert and La Broquerie's proximity to high schools in Hanover SD.
"That one needs a closer look," he said.
How do new schools get built?
SCHOOL divisions place their wish lists ranked by priority in their five-year capital lists. The public schools finance board, a provincial agency, assesses the requests and makes its recommendations. The provincial government provides all funding for school construction.
Approved schools for public school divisions
Arborgate Middle School in La Broquerie (Seine River SD)
Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach (Hanover SD)
Northlands High School in Winkler (Garden Valley SD)
Currently approved for construction:
Middle school in Woodlands (Interlake SD)
Amber Trails middle school in Winnipeg (Seven Oaks SD)
Sage Creek elementary school (Louis Riel SD)
Addition to Steinbach Regional Secondary School (Hanover SD), originally approved as a second high school
New schools requested in divisions' five-year capital priority lists:
Two elementary schools and a high school in Waverley West (Pembina Trails SD)
K-5 French immersion in Riverbend (Seven Oaks SD)
Middle School in Neepawa (Beautiful Plains SD)
Two elementary schools in Brandon (Brandon SD)
School in Gillam (Frontier SD)
Two K-4 schools in Winkler (Garden Valley SD)
K-4 school in Steinbach, K-4 school in Niverville (Hanover SD)
Middle years school in La Salle, high school in La Broquerie (Seine River SD)
K-4 school in Morden, middle years school in Morden (Western SD)
K-8 elementary school in Waterford Green, high school in northwest (Winnipeg SD)
K-12 school in Thompson (Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine)
-- source: department of education