Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives are promising to build a fourth elementary school in Steinbach, but its potential location seems unclear.
In a campaign announcement yesterday, PC leader Brian Pallister said if voters hand his party a second term, he’ll ensure 13 new schools are built in Manitoba over the next decade, including another K-4 school in Steinbach.
Hanover School Division board chair Ron Falk called the pledge "tremendous" and "really exciting."
"We’ve certainly had that on our five-year capital plan for a few years, and the land is purchased," he said.
In May 2014, HSD received the province’s blessing to spend $1.07 million on a 10-acre parcel of land in the city’s southwest corner. HSD’s submissions at the time called for a 480-seat elementary school, and board members voiced a desire to keep students living west of Brandt Street from having to cross the busy four-lane road each day.
Five years later, the land remains the only undeveloped parcel HSD owns, Falk said.
Minutes after yesterday's announcement, Steinbach PC candidate Kelvin Goertzen, also the province’s education minister, wrote on Facebook that the school would be situated "on the east side of Steinbach."
"My understanding is that that’s where the preferred location is," said Goertzen, when asked to elaborate on the comment. "I didn’t have a specific location in mind."
Falk told The Carillon he was "completely unfamiliar" with the idea of building a school anywhere on the city’s east end.
"If a person looks at the development around Steinbach, the development is happening in the west and southwest corner there. There’s scads of houses coming up there," he said.
East end locations weren’t considered during the board’s 2014 land purchase deliberations, Falk said.
"I’m not quite sure where there’d even be room for a school there."
Goertzen shrugged off the different assumptions about the school’s location.
"That can obviously be discussed in the future. I’m not as hung up on location as I am on the fact that a school is going to be coming."
Falk said the school board will wait until after the election to seek more clarity on the location question, in the form of a meeting or letter.
In the meantime, Falk applauded the PCs’ stance on modular classrooms, which are currently being used to handle high student volumes at all three Steinbach elementary schools.
In a release, Pallister said brick and mortar classrooms are "better learning environments" that offer "better results for students."
Seine River School Division board chair Wendy Bloomfield said she "totally supports" that view.
She said she hopes the PCs craft a follow-up promise that helps crowded schools in need of permanent additions.
"We’ve got a lot of growth in Seine River School Division, we’ve got a lot of portables, but we’re not necessarily quite at the point where we need (new) schools," Bloomfield said.
This past spring, Seine River trustees put an expansion of the Ste Anne Complex at the top of its five-year wish list. Two K-8 schools and a high school are housed in the building.
Years earlier, Seine River lobbied unsuccessfully for an English-language high school to be built in La Broquerie, in part to alleviate crowding in Ste Anne.
"I sort of feel that we’ve in some ways given up on that, because we’ve been told so many times, ‘No,’" Bloomfield said. "But something needs to be done in the east end of our school division."
Goertzen wouldn’t rule out other education-related announcements occurring on the campaign trail, but said "needs and evidence" generated the 13 projects contained in yesterday’s announcement.
While the 10-year promise extends well beyond the next electoral term, Goertzen said an extended outlook allows for a planning, construction, and hiring process that can take up to four years to complete, and assures communities that have been waiting a long time.
The announcement didn’t specify the order in which the new schools would be built, but Goertzen said Steinbach’s project is "in the top half."
Falk estimated the planning process for a new school takes 12 months, and construction a further 18 months, making the new school at least three years away.
Costs and student capacity won’t be known until the division can sit down with the Public Schools Finance Board, he added.