Esther Starkman School is in the news for being overcrowded, leaving Edmonton Public Schools with unpopular tough decisions. After some digging around in planning documents available online here is an overview of the development process, from an open field to school construction. Links are provided for readers that wish to dig around on their own.
The ‘plot’ of this post is this: it starts with an open field and a concept, then a plan, followed by implementation – funding and building new schools. In writing this, I see that planning is one thing and implementation is the other. But who is responsible for what?
It started with an open field and a concept
Prior to the formal planning that takes place to build new neighbourhoods, land owners and developers that want to build new neighbourhoods prepare a Servicing Concept Design Brief. It is not a statutory plan with legal ‘teeth’ but it does have a significant purpose to get the lay of the land before the specific planning of several neighbourhoods takes place in Neighbourhood Structure Plans.
I can trace the Esther Starkman school site back to the Terwillegar Heights Servicing Concept Design Brief, a “generalized framework for municipal infrastructure, servicing, planning and development guidelines and basic environmental requirements (p. 1)” for the area. The first draft of this document was prepared in 1990 and was adopted by City Council in 1992. It has been amended several times since, most recently in July 2012.
The Terwillegar Heights Servicing Concept Design Brief covers the following neighbourhoods: Haddow, Leger, Hodgson, McGrath, Mactaggart, South Terwillegar and Terwillegar Towne.
Here are the highlights of the Servicing Concept Design Brief relating to schools:
- The City of Edmonton and developers are expected to work in cooperation with and the school boards to determine physical site requirements and future student attendance areas (p. 40).
- An objective: “Schools are one of the basic focal points in the design and function of neighbourhoods. As such, careful consideration must be given to the configuration, size and location of school sites so that they can effectively serve community needs (p. 41).”
- Direction for the Neighbourhood Area Structure Plans to come for each neighbourhood relating to schools (p. 43-45):
- Neighbourhood size and configuration. 6000 people will generate adequate number of students for a Public k-8 school. Larger population is needed for Catholic school. Elementary age children should not walk more that 1.2 km to a school site.
- Access and circulation. The planning of schools sites and vehicular and pedestrian transportation systems needs to be coordinated.
- Parcel configuration and frontage. Where possible, put Public and Catholic school sites, and park sites, together to make more efficient use of land and facilities. Dimensions of school sites are also articulated.
- Soil conditions. When preparing the NSP, soil tests geotechnical information are required to avoid potential hazards.
- Servicing. The developer is expected to plan how to provide services to the school sites (water, wastewater, gas, electricity).
- Pipeline corridors / utility rights-of-way. Educational and recreational facilities need to be separated from these utilities. In some instances, they can be adjacent to take advantage of pedestrian corridors, but there must be adequate separation distance.
- Site drainage. The developer is required to ensure water drains off the future school site.
- Storm water management. Wet storm water management facilities (ie ponds) should not be located on or adjacent school sites.
- Assembly of land and staging of site development. The land for school sites is assembled through the subdivision process – which does not happen until all the planning work is complete. The staging of development “will give high priority to the assembly and servicing of school/park sites.” The Esther Starkman school site is named here as essential for early stages of development. A Catholic K-8 is named.
- Commercial development. The school boards perceive that commercial and K-8 schools will create pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. Commercial development should be separated from school sites.
Three schools are anticipated in the Servicing Concept Design Brief for Terwillegar Towne specifically: two K-8 (Edmonton Public Schools) and an elementary/junior high school (Edmonton Catholic Schools). (Please click here and scroll to Map 12 on page 42. The official Development Concept can be found on Map 14, page 60.)
Esther Starkman is one of the two K-8 schools. Two schools are not yet built – a K-8 within Tomlinson Common to the west, and Edmonton Catholic’s elementary / junior high school adjacent to Ester Starkman.
Then a plan
To implement a Servicing Concept Design Brief, smaller and more specific plans are prepared for Council’s approval. These are called Neighbourhood Area Structure Plans. In the map above, these NASPs are noted in blue writing. Esther Starkman school is found in the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan, a document adopted by City Council as a bylaw first in 1995, and amended by Council most recently in 2003.
Here are the highlights of the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan relating to schools:
- Educational objectives of the plan: “To provide for appropriate school/park sites (p. 22).” Bylaw amendment 12258 (March, 2000) added the following text: “the number of school sites and locations have been previously rationalized with the school boards to maximize the opportunity for inter-neighbourhood catchment and access (p. 26).”
- The land use concept (figure 7 on p. 51), in 2003, shows two K-8 school sites for Edmonton Public Schools – Esther Starkman school and a second site within Tomlinson Common. Adjacent to Esther Starkman is a site for Edmonton Catholic Schools’ elementary / junior high school.
The land allocation for three schools in the Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan is consistent with the Servicing Concept Design Brief.
Followed implementation – funding and building schools
Implementation of the Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Structure Plan took place in many ways. The land was subdivided to reflect the plan. For schools, this process allows a legal description and title to school land, just as it does for developers and builders to build the homes we eventually buy. This process makes it clear who owns what land. Zoning further dictates what can happen on the land.
When development begins, land is graded, pipes are placed in the ground, roads and sidewalks are installed, parks are developed and buildings are built – homes, business and schools alike. For schools, the site is prepared for a building, which only happens when the funds are secured for construction. Capital funding for schools in Alberta is administered by the provincial government.
Recall the Servicing Concept Design Brief. It expected in Terwillegar town, three schools: two K-8 for Edmonton Public Schools and one elementary / junior high school for Edmonton Catholic Schools.
In April of each year, school boards must submit a three-year capital plan for the following three years to the Government of Alberta, who funds the construction of schools. Esther Starkman officially opened on September 6, 2010. Edmonton Public Schools’ proposed Three-Year Capital Plan (2013-16), dated March 2012, still shows the need for a second K-9 school in Terwillegar Heights (presumably at Tomlinson Common). The Three-Year Capital Plan (2011-2014), prepared in 2010 also shows a K-6 school in Terwillegar Heights. In at least 2010, Edmonton Public Schools asked the Government of Alberta for an additional K-6/8 school in Terwilligar Towne.
Planning is one thing; implementation another
Here’s what has happened in Terwillegar Towne:
- One K-8 school has been constructed (Esther Starkman School, opened September 2010)
- One Catholic high school has been built instead of an elementary / junior high school (Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School, opened September 2012)
- One remaining K-8 school has yet to receive funding (at Tomlinson Common), from the Government of Alberta, as requested by Edmonton Public Schools – to be confirmed
The question is not whether Edmonton Public Schools adequately planned for the schools. It appears that they did. What is lacking is implementation – the actual construction of the needed schools. For further investigation – did Edmonton Public Schools make the necessary funding requests of the Government of Alberta – and what was the Government’s response?
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In a subsequent post I will examine the remaining NASPs in Terwillegar to Heights to confirm whether the number of schools planned for at a larger scale were provided.
Please chime in – let’s see what we can figure out.
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Government of Alberta
- School Capital Manual: approval process for new schools, p. 15; school capital funding priorities, p. 16; school capital planning requirements of school boards, p. 17
- As of January 21, 2012, the Government of Alberta funded four new school projects for Edmonton, one in Terwillegar: Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School
City of Edmonton
- Terwillegar Heights Servicing Concept Design Brief
- Terwillegar Towne Neighbourhood Area Structure Plan
- A map showing the Plans in Effect
- A list of the plans you can access online (scroll down)
Edmonton Public Schools
- Edmonton Public Schools’ Three-Year Capital Plan (2013-16)
- Edmonton Public Schools’ Ten-Year Facilities Plan: 2009-2018