By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Some Coaldale residents have expressed opposition to the location of the proposed high school and recreation centre.
“My main concern is with the study done in 2012 — an Integrated Development Strategy Project — it was highly recommended never to build residential or buildings — that was sort of quoted in there — across that area because it is a natural wetland,” said Liz Allen, a Coaldale resident who has lived in the northwest corner of town for 40 years. “I think now that they have the water from the Malloy Drain coming, it might be adding to their wetland area.”
The recommendations for the IDS was that housing and like structures would not be built in the northwest corner, and it instead be used for storm water retention, wetlands or a campground.
“The wetland will no longer be the wetland that has cost so much money to develop, it will be a busy place and no birds will be visiting,” said Allen. “They consider the north side to be marginalized; that’s insulting. People have chosen to build there without a school, and that was their decision to make.”
Traffic would also be an issue, with Allen being concerned over the risk of sending people over the 30th street intersection with the highway on foot, as they wouldn’t be eligible for bussing.
“One of the (Palliser Trustees) said kids cross Mayor Magrath all the time to go to school. Well, they don’t have 10 Super Bs at the intersection at any given time, they have regular traffic because there’s a truck route around Lethbridge. You don’t see that many big trucks on Mayor Magrath compared to what you see on this Highway,” said Allen.
“I don’t think you can compare Mayor Magrath to this highway at all.”
Adding in train crossings and an increase of busses and people driving their kids to school, Allen predicts there will be problems.
According to information presented at information sessions earlier this month, the town had to rush to put a proposal together for a special Value Management process with the province, in hopes of getting a speedy approval. Allen says they rushed the process too quickly, and should have waited and done it right.
“I don’t call it atypical, I call it irresponsible. There’s no reason in the world that another year of studying can’t be done on whether this is really suitable with community input and finding out more facts,” said Allen. “I just can’t believe you would plan anything this big in a few months and six or seven people are the ones deciding. It’s ludacris.”
Allen is also concerned with the impact that proposed facility might have on the Birds of Prey Centre, which would lie east of the facility.
The centre has been investing in their currently location for over 30 years. During that time, the town has told them that there won’t be any development which would be incompatible with the centre.
“We’ve been going on that assumption, not just for the past three to four years, but for the past 30 years,” said Colin Weir, managing director of the Birds of Prey Centre.
“Based on all those plans, when the town was applying for a letter of support for its funding of that Malloy Basin Stormwater project, we supplied a letter of support, and the town said ‘Yeah, this is still what our long-term plan for that area is, expanded wetlands, a destination campground, fishing, things like that’. And what we’re discouraged about is immediately after they got their funding, we were cut out of the funding process, and now they’ve come up with a new plan to say that they’re in fact going to put a high school and a rec centre and a few hundred houses over there. And that makes no sense whatsoever. It’s against what they’ve told us for years, it seems to me there’s a lot of public opposition to the location, and they’re still going ahead and doing it.
“It’s very discouraging, that’s all I can say. Like, it’s a knife in our heart over the long-term plan. Like, I wouldn’t have even built the place in Coaldale had I known this was going to happen, you know.”
Although he is in support of a new high school and rec centre, Weir says he feels “deceived” by the town, and if they can’t count on the town to follow professional planning advice, as well as do what they told the centre they were doing, then “there is no point in us investing anymore in that site, ever”.
“We have been telling them this already for two or three years, so this is not new to them, and they still keep pushing ahead with this idea of a high school and rec centre that everybody told them is the worst possible place they can put it in our town.”
A high school and hundreds of houses is “incompatible” with a wetland of provincial significance, which the town told the centre they were striving for when they first applied for funding.
“There is going to be so much disturbance from people out there using it in an uncontrolled setting, it’s going to be just like Henderson Lake,” said Weir. “We already have a lot of problems now with trespassing and dogs and cats coming over, killing birds at various times, and if you start putting that development right next door to our place, that’s going to seriously impact our operations.”
Right now, it’s creating a lot of uncertainty at the centre, as if they can’t count on the town supporting them, then why should they invest in the town. The centre has other projects outside of Coaldale, where they do bird displays and programs around the province. They do 70-80 programs per year, and Weir says they are more profitable for the centre then keeping the centre open and running it as a tourist attraction.
“It costs us well over $1,000 a day to keep the doors open during the summer time. It’s not really a great moneymaking proposition for us, as far as sustaining our operations. So we actually do better offsite, around the province,” said Weir. “So we might do better, for example, not operating, not being open to the public here in Coaldale, and maybe just using the site as a base and operating elsewhere with our traveling programs.
“I do love this town, and I love this support and appreciate the support very much that we’ve had from many of the residents both here and in Lethbridge and in the region, and the rural areas supporting the town. But when we’re dealing with town council and administration, and they keep doing things against what they said they were going to do, things that are not consistent with what our long term plans are, you have to wonder. We’re just getting tired of it.”
Weir pointed out that the town has gotten in trouble before with poor planning decisions, where they went ahead with subdivisions or developments against professional advice, only for them to cause them grief later on, citing examples of the Parkside area and the 7-11 intersection.
Weir also cited issues with steep bussing costs, increased traffic and overall student safety.
Clive Schaupmeyer, who lives in the north part of Coaldale, said the proposed location will cost the town more money then they suggest.
Citing the 30th Street intersection with the highway, he said the possibility of a pedestrian overpass was being discussed as a possibility to get people across the highway, and said one of similar size on Calgary was built for $5 million in 2015. If the overpass wasn’t built, then more kids will have to be bussed to the new site, compared to a facility built on the south side of town, where the majority of residents live, which would severely increased bussing costs.
Traffic upgrades would also need to be done to handle the increase in traffic. However, one of the possibilities in particular gives Schaupmeyer cause for concern.
When talking about why the northwest site was preferred in a presentation slide from the town, it said “future growth on the west side of Coaldale requires that a full signalized intersection (or roundabout) be installed” at major intersections in town along Highway 3, something Schaupmeyer said “would fit, but it’s complicated”, due to the railway tracks that run parallel to Highway 3.
“If you can envision that roundabout at 8 o’clock in the morning with school busses, semi-trailers and a train; it will clog up Highway 3,” said Schaupmeyer. “There’s going to be congestion when school buses are coming and going, when student pedestrians coming and going, when moms and dads are driving kids at eight, 8:30, nine in the morning, and again at three, four, five at night. It is going to be a major congestion.”
Adding he knows the town is growing and may grow north of Coaldale, “for the foreseeable future” building a school north of the highway “just makes no economic sense, makes no safety sense”.
“We’re going from a few students who live in Garden Grove crossing the Highway now, to hundreds of students somehow having to get across the highway minimum of twice a day, sometimes four,” said Schaupmeyer.
“(I’m) very concerned about traffic congestion, on Highway 3 and Highway 845, congestion at the corner of 30th Street and Highway 3 — Bos Sod Corner — and the costs associated with these.”
While he welcomes the school and rec complex in town if it is needed, and is glad that Palliser considers it their top priority, and acknowledges the town is growing and may grow north of Coaldale, “for the foreseeable future” building a school north of the highway “just makes no economic sense, makes no safety sense”.
“People are very, very concerned about health care and education budgets, and yet the Town of Coaldale is proposing something that will cost millions of dollars more, than if they put the school south of the highway where the majority of people live. This is no time to be wasting five or 10 million dollars extra locating a school just because the town thinks it’s a good spot.”
The Town of Coaldale already owns all of the land the joint facility would go on. According to town CAO Kalen Hastings, from a planning perspective, Coaldale town council had wanted to place an amenity on the north side of town as well — similar to the high school and recreation centre built on the west side of the City of Lethbridge — “simply because there are 2,000 people that live on the north side of Coaldale”.
The partnership with Palliser for the joint facility was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the town. Hastings also said the proposed facility would be “highly complimentary” to the wetlands and the Malloy Drainage project in the area.
“We look at this as a huge opportunity, to create an environmental learning opportunity for the students, and our intention would be to partner with the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, where you have an environmental learning course with students located next door, possible summer job placement. We see it as an excellent partnership opportunity for all entities,” said Hastings.
Although the IDS study had called for the area to not be developed this way, Hastings stressed that it had never been formally adopted or approved by the town or Lethbridge County.
“It was a conceptual document, it was never intended to be taken literally in terms of logistics,” said Hastings. “The quarter section upon which the school and future residential development will be located, it is on high ground. To turn that into wetland, as shown by the concept designs in the IDS, would be about $10 million of earth-filling, to create an artificially reconstructed wetland on high ground. So the logistics don’t add up, to put the wetland where it’s shown in the IDS study.”
Acknowledging that the entire town is low, Hastings said that you want to put a wetland where it is “naturally low”, and if you go “half a mile to the north, for example”, there is a better location for wetland expansion. The area where the school would go, in comparison, has a topographically higher elevation.
Traffic infrastructure improvements would also need to be made in the town, no matter where the joint facility goes.
“It is important to state that no matter where growth takes place in Coaldale — be that north, east, south or west — these transportation infrastructure improvements are needed,” said Hastings. “There’ll be signalized lights, intersectional upgrades made at the intersection of Highway 3 and 30th Street. We’re going to have an additional million dollars of paved pedestrian pathways. There’s going to be road upgrades made to 30th Street and 18th Avenue, as well as the extension of 16th Avenue, along with a pathway along the north boundary of 16th Avenue. In addition, we are exploring other locations for pedestrian and vehicle crossings, to make or improve connectivity from north Coaldale to south Coaldale.
At the 30th Street intersection, the town is looking at installing a detached pedestrian pathway and road widening. The pathway would be kept separate from the road, with a ground-level crossing “at the signalized intersection, similar to what you see in other places in town”.
“If you look at Highway 3, it crosses through a number of different communities that has development on both sides of the Highway. Mayor Magrath Drive, for example, has more lanes, more traffic, than even what we have going through Coaldale,” said Hastings.
“We’re not unique in that situation, we are going to use industry best practices to make safety upgrades a priority on both sides of the highway.”
The town is also looking at installing fencing along Highway 3, as “part of the investigative process with CP Rail”, to encourage people to use designated crossings.