By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter will not be taking sides in the controversy over the proposed high school’s location in Coaldale.
Speaking at a Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce meeting on Nov. 13, the Associate Minister of Red Tape and Taber-Warner MLA declined to choose sides in the debate over the location of a future high school in Coaldale.
Noting that he had received a bunch of questions on the issue, had visited the proposed location and other locations considered for the school and listed to “very reasonable” arguments from both sides of the issue, ultimately, he had to go back to his guiding principal of respecting local decision making.
“When we do local decision making here, those are the people who are closest, in the trenches, closest to the problem. When you move away from that local decision making, the further out you get, the more chance you have to get it wrong,” said Hunter.
“First of all, I’ve no mandate to inject myself into this argument. I’m not the education minister, so that would be the first thing, and so, not having that mandate, I had to be very careful and questioned about how I was going to move forward on this. And what I’ve come to is that if there are people who do not want to see it in that site, the proper channels is to be able to work with the school board, the town and, if necessary, the education minister, because they are the closest to the situation, they know all the nuances, and they will be able to decide what is the right way forward.”
Hunter also said that while the project is not on a capital projects list right now, due to the preliminary work that has already been done on it, he’s not sure how you can “take all that back”.
Acknowledging that it wasn’t what some people wanted to hear from him, he said it was in the best interest for the people of Coaldale to make this decision themselves, and they had made the recommendation to the department of education that this was the site they want a potential new high school to be located on, based on what the school board and town council wanted to do.
Hunter said that he had discussed this issue with concerned residents, and has talked to past transportation ministers who have said they wanted a say over which side of a highway a community expands, a concern he shares.
“Yes, you can have a heavy-handed approach by the province or by myself, coming in and saying you’ve got to do it this way,” said Hunter.
“It is actually not my right to dictate to you the way, where that is going to go. It is your right, it’s the right of the community to make that decision, it’s the right of the school board to make that decision, and it’s the right of the education minister to make that decision. As your MLA, it’s my right to be able for advocate for you, but in this situation, based upon what I’ve heard, it is split.”
Hunter said they needed to discuss this with the people making the decision, but if they weren’t able to sway them with their arguments “I don’t know how I can”.
Hunter said he had talked with both transportation minister Ric McIver and education minister Adriana LaGrange, who are both fine with the location.
“These are ministers of their portfolios. I have to defer to their better judgement on these things,” said Hunter. “They are fine with it. The studies that have been done, they say that it’s mitigated the concerns that have been brought up.”
After the meeting, in a statement Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig said he was “greatly encouraged” by Hunter’s message, and it was “reassuring to hear that the ministers of education and infrastructure are confident in the information provided by Palliser School Division and the Town of Coaldale, and that neither Minister had concerns about the location that was selected”.
“The Town of Coaldale and Palliser Regional School Division remain committed to the originally identified location in the northwest portion of Coaldale. Significant planning and feasibility analysis have already begun on the site to ensure the project is as shovel ready as possible. Together, the Town and Palliser retained architectural consultants to commence the design of the joint facility. To date, a number of community and stakeholder consultation design sessions have taken place to determine which amenities are included in the interior of the recreation portion of the joint facility,” said Craig.
“The Town of Coaldale, along with its partners at Palliser Regional School Division, is optimistic that funding for a new high school will be included in the Provincial Government’s future capital budget. In the event there are any further delays in provincial funding for the school portion of the joint project, the Town will proceed with construction of the Multi-Use Recreation Center, but will ensure the facility will be designed in such a way that a new high school (grades 7-12) can be attached to it in the future.”
Although funding for the proposed high school was not announced this year, Craig said the province has signalled that they will continue to approve new school and infrastructure projects this term, and they remain “hopeful” that Coaldale will be one of them.
The town is continuing to work with CP Rail and Alberta Transportation on a number of transportation safety infrastructure enhancements that will benefit both the north and south sides of Coaldale.
Additionally, before the school opens the town will ensure that signal lights at the Highway 3 and 30th Street intersection are in place, fencing is installed along the Highway 3 corridor and that the speed limit along the adjacent stretch of the highway is lowered to 50 km/h.
Those seeking information about the the proposed high school can contact Palliser Regional School District by calling 403-328-4111 or visiting by https://www.pallisersd.ab.ca/contact.
Please note that an earlier edition of this article said Grant Hunter was the MLA for the Cardston-Taber riding, which is his old riding, and it should read that he is the MLA for Taber-Warner. The article has been updated, and the Sunny South News apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.