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City, school divisions finally reach agreement for construction of joint-use school

During its Dec. 12 regular meeting, city council voted 6-1 on several motions to allow the rezoning and subdivision of phases 5 and 6 of the Westheath property.

Nearly four years since the joint-use school project on South Hill was first announced, city hall and both school divisions have reached agreements allowing the latter to issue tenders and start construction.  

However, because city hall needs to change bylaws, subdivide, rezone, and address other “processes,” construction likely won’t begin until late spring or early summer.

During its Dec. 12 regular meeting, city council voted 6-1 on several motions to allow the rezoning and subdivision of phases 5 and 6 of the Westheath property.

Coun. Kim Robinson was opposed. 

Council authorized city administration to:

  • Complete a municipal reserve lease agreement and development and service agreement between the municipality and Prairie South School Division and Holy Trinity Catholic School Division
  • Proceed with a street and lane closure bylaw for all streets and lanes within the affected area
  • Proceed with a bylaw for the exchange of municipal reserve land and two related surface parcels and proceed with the closure of another surface parcel
  • Go ahead with a public notice and bylaw preparation to rezone both phases to CS community service and institutional district, R1 large-lot low-density residential district, R1A low-density residential district and R2 medium-density residential district 
  • Waive a public information session and on-site advertising for the rezoning and sale of municipal reserve land

There are roughly 4.86 hectares (12.15 acres) in phases 5 and 6, with 4.28 hectares (10.71 acres) for the school and the rest for housing. 

Based on land payment fees of $15,000 and development levies of $52,636, the school boards will pay $160,650 for the former and $563,373 for the latter, for a total of $724,023. 

“We are extremely excited to bring this to council … ,” said city manager Jim Puffalt. “The project itself has had a lot of issues with supply chain issues (and) increase in budget, so all those things have become resolved.”

Council discussion

Many people have asked why the school divisions chose this site and whether there was any public consultation, Robinson said. He wondered if this site was now permanently “etched in stone.” 

Safety and traffic are other issues Robinson has heard about because the school will be near 15 Wing Air Base, while Ninth and 24th avenues southwest are the only major area thoroughfares. 

The Ministry of Education and school divisions chose that location without consulting the municipality, said Michelle Sanson, director of planning and development. They conducted several studies and determined Westheath was best. 

“It adds to the complexity of the project. We notified them that we were unhappy with the way it was chosen, but in the end, they believe it’s the best location,” said Puffalt. “And I would say this is a location that is carved in stone.”

Coun. Heather Eby was concerned about a paragraph in the lease agreement. She noted that if the divisions walked away from the school building in 75 years, the city would take ownership of it.

The divisions would have to demolish all buildings if they abandoned the site, said Sanson. City administration has flagged that issue and added that stipulation to the agreements. 

Meanwhile, city administration hopes to complete all necessary “processes” quickly — within four to six months — so construction can start, she added. 

“It’s really good to see this before us. It’s a really complex agreement, especially when we switched the sale to municipal reserve (land),” said Coun. Crystal Froese. “That kind of opened a whole other can of worms in the process.”

She hoped these bylaw changes rose to the top of the priority list so the city could approve them quickly. 

“Obviously, there’s a process we have to go through, so having the bylaws rise to the top will happen through due process,” retorted Coun. Dawn Luhning. 

Project background

City hall has worked with both school divisions to find a path forward for this project, explained Sanson. As per the agreements, the school will be built on developed municipal reserve land, while the divisions will be responsible for upgrading Wellington Road. 

A bylaw is needed to formally close that property, which means city hall needs to relocate two on-site skating rinks, she continued. A utility parcel must be closed, informational letters must be sent to homeowners within 90 metres and advertising will occur for two weeks in the Express. 

“So, still lots of public processes to go through and engagement before that’s adopted,” Sanson said, noting only one resident has expressed concern about the proposed location.

The school divisions plan to issue tenders in January, award contracts in February and begin construction around May, but city hall informed them that many processes need completing first, she continued. 

There is a risk if they proceed, but they have said they won’t go ahead until the municipality is finished completing its work, Sanson added. 

The next regular council meeting is Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. 

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