Skip to content

BCHS still the top priority in Pembina Hills’ capital plan

MLA says Barrhead’s absence from 2024 Budget is not a cause for concern, as project is still in design phase
Barrhead Composite High School (BCHS) has now completed one semester under the school ‘s new flex-time schedule which was implemented earlier in the fall.
The full modernization of Barrhead Composite High School, which is now estimated to cost more than $34.3 million, is the top priority in Pembina Hills' 2024-2027 Capital Plan. The project had been approved for design funding in 2023, but the division is now seeking the funding to actually carry out the construction work.

BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK — The full modernization and right-sizing of Barrhead Composite High School is again the top priority in the Pembina Hills School Division’s three-year capital plan, as funding for the actual construction work was not included in the 2024 provincial budget despite the project being approved for design funding a year ago. 

Each spring, school jurisdictions across Alberta must submit their three-year capital plan to the province by March 31 to receive funding for the construction of new schools, the modernization of current schools and other major capital projects. 

For the past few years, the full modernization and right-sizing of BCHS — a project now roughly estimated to cost more than $34 million — has been the top priority in Pembina Hills’ capital plan. 

In fact, it was the only priority in the 2023 capital plan, as the division wanted to emphasize the need to have that project done. 

This culminated in the province announcing in spring 2023 that the BCHS project was approved for design funding. Back in December, Pembina Hills published a notice on its website that the design work would begin the following month. 

During their March 20 meeting, Pembina Hills trustees passed a motion to adopt BCHS as the top priority in the newest capital plan, with the partial modernization of Barrhead Elementary School (an estimated $24.6 million project) and the partial modernization of Westlock Elementary School (an estimated $18.6 million) as the second and third priorities. 

“None of the projects on our current list are going to be a surprise to the board,” said secretary-treasurer Heather Nanninga. 

That said, there have been some changes from previous years when all three of these projects have been in the capital plan. 

At one time, the full modernization and right-sizing of BCHS had been estimated to cost just under $29 million, a difference of about $4.5 million. 

Nanninga suggested this was simply due to the ever-increasing cost of construction, adding, “The scope of the project hasn’t changed a great deal, but just the cost of doing everything has." 

The partial modernization of Westlock Elementary School had also once been higher on the priority list than Barrhead Elementary School, but it had been bumped down the priority list due to some substantial maintenance carried out at the school. 

Design work ongoing 

Following the March 20 board meeting, Town & Country This Week reached out to the province to determine if there was any significance to the BCHS project’s absence in the 2024 provincial budget. 

In an e-mailed statement, Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides said he understood there may be some disappointment that this project was not included in the budget, but the design work is still ongoing and complex projects such as this take over a year to complete. 

“My ministry will re-evaluate all projects when the time comes to develop Budget 2024 and more information about priority capital projects will be available next year,” he said. 

Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken also said the design phase of this project is very complex, as it delves deep into the engineering of the structure to ensure the project can go to tender without any major surprises. 

“I’m comfortable with where the project is at, understanding that it’s a fairly complex change that’s going to occur there,” he said. 

"I don’t believe that anybody has to be concerned. The fact that it didn’t make construction funding at this stage, that doesn’t surprise me.” 

van Dijken acknowledged he has heard concerns voiced by some Barrhead residents about the potential loss of a gymnasium as part of the BCHS project, which would impact local recreation. 

He said most of that is a conversation that needs to occur between the division and the community, and he believed that there had been some resolution achieved over those concerns. 

But even if there is still concern over the loss of a gym, van Dijken pointed out that no one has stepped forward to say the BCHS modernization and right-sizing can’t go ahead.

van Dijken said he believed the plan the division has come up with in consultation with Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure is a good one and will serve the community well into the future — it’ll just take some time for the design to be finalized. 

“I’d sooner have them do that correctly and properly, as opposed to going to tender and not being fully ready,” he said. 

[email protected] 

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks