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Student, parent safety at risk at proposed Calgary elementary: Community association

Residents in north Calgary are saying designs for a new Coventry Hills / Country Hills Village elementary school pose a ‘significant risk’ to the safety of neighbourhood children, and that the province won’t budge.

Members of the Northern Hills Community Association (NHCA) said there was very little direct consultation and when it was held it was poorly communicated to them. As such, they said they weren’t able to properly lodge their concerns with the design.

The community association is concerned with much of the infrastructure surrounding the school: the drop-off areas, the school parking lot, the bus zones, crosswalk location and the proposed location of the school’s playground.

The school is pegged as a K-4 with an estimated school population of 600, according to the province’s infrastructure website.

David Hartwick, NHCA vice president, said the school being built on a busy Coventry Drive with no other inlet roads posed a number of problems. He said their group consulted the Calgary Police Service on the design and enforcement side, engaged the city councillor and got the area MLA and school trustee involved (who Hartwick said weren’t involved in the consultation from the start. This was later confirmed by area Coun. Jyoti Gondek.)

“Our concern is if this wouldn’t meet the requirements for approval for a regular development planning process, why would Alberta Infrastructure get to bypass? The reason is, is because it was a designated school site and that’s what’s being put on it, so they don’t have to meet the policy requirements,” Hartwick said.

Alberta Infrastructure responded to questions via email as the minister, MLA Sandra Jansen, was travelling and therefore unavailable to discuss the matter.

They said the community association was first notified of the project in the spring of 2017 and then an open house was held in the community in February of this year. The province was aware of the safety concerns brought forth by the community after meeting with the NHCA, the City of Calgary, Coun. Gondek and the Calgary Board of Education.

“The NHCA proposed some amendments to the design. These were reviewed and assessed to not improve safety and may contradict city design guidelines.  Rationale was communicated to NHCA on why the chosen design was considered the safest design,” an email from the ministry read.

“Redesign of some of the elements, as suggested by NHCA, would not make the site safer.”

The province couldn’t confirm the $800,000 additional cost and projected delay on the school construction, as outlined in a press release from the NHCA.

Coun. Gondek said the neighbourhood concerns around the site have been long documented. Gondek herself lived near the site when she and her family first moved to Calgary in 1997.

“When the school was announced, most of us who have ever driven by there understood that there would be some issues,” Gondek said, noting again that the site is only served by one road.

“Having the opportunity to see the development plans after having been elected, it was a little bit worrisome having people going in and out of that school site – particularly parents who are driving their kids.”

The designated school site for the Coventry Hills / Country Hills Village Elementary School. SCREENSHOT ALBERTA INFRASTRUCTURE

Gondek said she understands the province’s hands are somewhat tied on the project. They have a set budget for the school and a certain site already dictated.

“If you’re given a certain amount of money to build a school and then you’re told that any of the infrastructure is going to take away from things like the library or gymnasium, you’re loathe to do it,” she said.

But Gondek said the problem goes beyond the site, or the design for the school. It’s the school construction process starting right from when a community is conceptualized.

“It really started to demonstrate to me where things fall apart when different levels of government don’t talk to each other,” she said.

Hartwick also added that the community association was told that essentially the school gets built in that specified site and the collateral effect on traffic control, policing and safety – and all the related costs – fall to the city.

“So, city taxpayer dollars will have to pay to fix the school site instead of Alberta Infrastructure, who’s building the school, just doing it right the first time,” Hartwick said.

Gondek agreed.

“He’s bang on,” she said.

Some safety measures are being added, such as rapid flash beacons at the lone nearby crosswalk, and small design concessions are being made, but the general site design is the same, said Gondek.

There isn’t much else that can be done this late in the process, she said, except to continue pushing for improvements to the communication in future school sites around the city.

The Calgary Board of Education declined to comment on the story, instead directing questions on the Coventry Hills / Country Hills Village Elementary to Alberta Infrastructure.

The school is expected to be open by 2021, the province said.