Some Calgary communities are grappling with the prospect that underutilized schools may be shut down in the next few years due to excess capacity.
The communities say it’s still very early in the process. They said further discussions need to take place with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) before anything forecasting the impact.
The latest student accommodation assessments performed by the CBE showed that some schools may be at risk of closures. Schools with excess capacity and less than 70 per cent utilization by potential students are most at risk.
Currently, 40 public schools in Calgary are experiencing low utilization and excess capacity. Six of those schools are listed as having short-term student accommodation challenges. Scenic Acres, Chinook Park, Haysboro, Banting & Best (Ogden), Sherwood, and North Haven schools, all fall under the criteria.
Twenty-one of these listed schools are in the southwest, four in the southeast, six are in the northeast, and nine are in the northwest.
“I believe we are looking at the possible closure of 16 schools, and at the end of the day, it relates to utilization and the number of students in the school,” Trustee Richard Hehr said at the June 22 CBE board meeting.
Alternatives to closure
Closure isn’t a foregone conclusion, but the schools are still at risk. CBE spokesperson Megan Geyer said that updates are planned for the schools later this year once enrollment records are finalized.
“This fall, the CBE will be notifying schools with high and low utilization rates based on September 30 enrolment counts. We then work with the communities to determine the potential decision required,” Geyer said.
If there is an alternative to closure that brings the utilization rate over 80 per cent, then the schools will remain in operation.
Some schools in the same community will undergo potential balancing in enrolment. One example is in Tuscany, where there are three public schools: Eric Harvie, Tuscany, and Twelve Mile Coulee. Both Eric Harvie and Tuscany school have excess capacity, while Twelve Mile Coulee is overcapacity. Being in such close proximity, the CBE is attempting to equalize enrollment by conducting grade configuration.
Effect on Calgary communities
Not every community has this luxury. Ogden is one community where the school is in real danger of shutting down.
Richard Smith, president of the Millican-Ogden Community Association, said that while it’s too early to speculate, the closure of Banting and Best School would hurt. Banting and Best had a 91 per cent utilization in 2018, according to a 2018 CBE report, but has apparently fallen below 70 per cent since.
“It would be devastating to the community. It is the last remaining public elementary school that’s grades one to four in the community,” Smith said.
“I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon, though. There’s a whole lot of water that’s going to go under the bridge before that time comes.”
Smith said it’s far too early to make assumptions.
Other community associations like Scenic Acres CA and Haysboro CA said that while they’re concerned about the possibility of closure, the decisions are too far ahead in the future to act on right now. Right now they said they can only hope the CBE explores all options and engages in community consultation.
“Community trends and shifts often happen uncontrollably. This past year has been a marked example of that. It is never easy to hear about the potential of losing an integral anchor such as a neighbourhood elementary school,” read a prepared statement from the Haysboro Community Association.
“We hope the CBE considers all options before committing to closing such a vital source of education for our community’s children.”
A long time before a decision is made
Superintendent Dany Breton said that several solutions may be available, such as the grade configurations. If something drastic were to happen, it would be a long process of community engagement.
“What we find out from the September 30 enrollment, if the trend continues to repeat itself, confirming projections, we will reach out more specifically to notify parents of opportunities to inform them of challenges and some possible solutions,” Superintendent Breton said in the June 22 board meeting.
“If there is a need to move to something more impactful like closures or consolidation that will be brought to the board of trustees. Then this will lead to public process informing the decision.”
Until the September 30 date, no projections are being acted upon.
The Calgary Board of Education said that there was no one available to further discuss the potential closures.