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Francophone schools in Lac La Biche and Plamondon see funding options

Ecole Beausejour and Ecole Ste-Catherine are part of Alberta budget 2024 funding

LAC LA BICHE/PLAMONDON - École Beauséjour in Plamondon will be getting $250,000 from the Alberta government for modernizations. École Sainte-Catherine in Lac La Biche may also be seeing funding for the ‘new-to-them' school building they’ve occupied for the last 10 years. 

The Beauséjour announcement was made by Fort McMurray-Cold Lake MLA Brian Jean during a visit to the school on May 3.  

Jean, who is also the provincial minister of Energy and Minerals, said the funding is part of a commitment outlined in the 2024 provincial budget, pledging to spend $2.1 billion over three years to build and modernize schools across the province. The funding is ear-marked for 43 priority school projects, including 28 new schools, 10 replacement schools, and five modernizations.  

The funds for École Beauséjour are in a category listed as “planning funding.” 

Jean says the category includes site analysis and scope development activities.  

When asked how this $250,000 modernization grant will be helpful for École Beauséjour, Jean said one thing the current government recognized when it got into power was that many schools across the province are sometimes decades behind with regards to infrastructure improvements. This includes boilers, electrical infrastructure, or even storage and utilization of rooms.  

“At a facility like this, especially one that belongs to the people, and works for the people, you are always going to find opportunities to optimize…and that’s why this modernization grant is there, is to optimize and make things better for the students here. That’s what we are trying to do right across Alberta,” Jean told Lakeland This Week.  

The MLA said his government has made many investments in schools in Calgary and Edmonton as well as in rural areas across the province, including his hometown of Fort McMurray, which he says is also seeing new growth in infrastructure investment in local schools.  

Representatives from the region’s Francophone school board, Conseil Scolaire Centre-Est, were also on hand for Jean’s visit and announcement of the modernization grant funding. 

The school board’s vice-chairperson Danielle Larsen said the funding doesn’t yet have specific destinations. 

She said the money from this grant will go into the planning stages for potential improvements at the school.  

Larsen isn’t sure of all that is involved in the modernization of the Francophone school, saying it will be decided in the school division’s planning and design phases. 

This grant, Larsen continued, will be good for École Beauséjour as improvements will make the older school building a safer, more welcoming space for students.  

“Because it’s such an old building, there’s a lot of maintenance required,” she said.  

École Beauséjour was built in 1993. 

Almost time for École Sainte-Catherine 

All 30 students from Lac La Biche’s École Sainte-Catherine were in Plamondon for the Beauséjour funding announcement.  

The school – which currently operates out of the 60-year-old former Central Elementary School building — is also ear-marked for funding in the province’s 2024 budget. A project called “solution for École Sainte-Catherine" is listed as part of the $2.1 billion in education spending. While the project is in the provincial budget under the heading “full construction funding,” the school was not part of the MLA’s recent funding announcement. 

When asked why there was no formal announcement for École Ste-Catherine, Jean told Lakeland This Week it's likely more of a timing issue, and that additional work and direction may be needed from Francophone school officials.  

“Let’s be clear, they need to be ready for those investments, with planning and land and if there are other things to get out of the way before we can move it up our agenda which is usually engineering and construction,” he said, adding that provincial funding can be also affected by local decisions and local priority changes. 

“At this stage, I don't think it’s a surprise what gets announced and what doesn’t get announced, because it’s prioritized by the local school district. If they prioritize something on the list over another thing, then we prioritize that as a government,” he said. “There are other places that want the money, and needs the money, and if they are not ready here, then it has to go somewhere else.” 

Although there was no funding announcement for the Lac La Biche Francophone school, Jean says the project – whatever it may end up being – is important.  

"It is a priority, and we are going to make sure that school goes ahead. It’s important to the people here, and they’ve been waiting a long time. 

Planning continues 

Dolorése Nolette, the superintendent of the St. Paul-based Conseil Scolaire Centre Est, says plans are continuing to move ahead with École Sainte-Catherine.  

Currently, the Francophone school division leases École Sainte-Catherine from Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS), and according to Nolette, after extensive negotiations, the building will be transferred to the Francophone school board by the end of May. 

“It’s official now… the minister has signed off,” she stated. “We’re really very pleased to move forward on that.” 

With a building of their own, she explained, funds can be granted for the acquisition costs of renovating “emergent” issues with the building, which include a roof replacement.  

While Nolette didn’t give any specific dollar amounts, she did say the funding is evaluated once school officials put in requests for what needs to be done.  

The Francophone school division continues to work with provincial ministries and departments to establish the funds that will be received to meet the needs of schools.  

Nolette admits there was some confusion surrounding how provincial budget listed the school’s “solution” in the construction category,  with some believing it meant a new school. 

“It doesn’t mean a new school…it means that it’s a new school to us because we’ll be able to acquire it and we’ll be able to make it more livable,” she said.  

Jean says funding is not always about building new schools, it’s about growing on existing foundations and allowing communities and school officials to be part of those expansion plans. Going over priority lists from communities across the province, he says, has shown instances where assets owned by some of the province’s school districts were not being utilized to the full degree they needed to be.  

“This is one of the ways we’re trying to get them to cooperate between each other, and the minister is working hard on that, and there are some issues even locally on that situation,” he said. 

The MLA says the government is continuing to work with communities and school divisions to best utilize existing infrastructure where possible to create more opportunities in education.  

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