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Government drops size of new O’Brien Lake West school

A difference of just 50 students has meant major changes to plans for a new school in Grande Prairie. When Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools got the paperwork for their K to 9 school recently announced for O’Brien Lake West, Board Chair Michael Ouellette says it was for 900 students instead of 950.

“To a lot of people that wouldn’t make much of a difference, but one of the biggest things is the spaces,” he explains. “Once they change the number of students, it also changes what other spaces are made smaller as well, so it’s a real big deal.”

The biggest impact of the change is on the size of the school’s gymnasium. At 900 students, it would get what’s called a two-station gym, while 950 would trigger a three-station one.

“It’s about a $4 million extra charge to upsize that gym, and then that upsizes the whole school,” says Ouellette. “Everyone wonders why you build a school and then throw portables on it and this is one of the reasons why.”

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Ouellette says the school board hasn’t been given a reason for the change in school size, and is waiting to hear back from the Minister of Education. He’s hoping to have a meeting with David Eggen this summer to show him why the province should stick with the number originally announced.

“It’s an easy argument; the growth of our district is going to show that we’re going to need that size. Let’s do it now, as Grande Prairie continues to grow, as our district continues to grow, it’s just going to be good for the kids.”

At 900 students, the building would be more comparable to St. Catherine School than St. John Paul II. Ouellette says the project is still on schedule to be done by the fall of 2021, provided the government agrees to return to the 950 student size. Designs have not yet been done.

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