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Thread: SHARE your thoughts on the possibilities and challenges of school space

  1. #1

    Default SHARE your thoughts on the possibilities and challenges of school space

    Edmonton Public Schools is a district with 196 schools and 79,894 students. Even though some areas of the city are growing very quickly, enrolment in schools in some of the more mature areas is declining. By 2010, there will be 30,000 surplus spaces in Edmonton’s schools
    School maintenance, including heat power and renovating older facilities is getting more costly. Provincial funding for maintenance is tied to the number of spaces a district has, not to the space that it maintains. This provides a major challenge to Edmonton Public Schools.
    However, there are opportunities to balance these challenges. The District is committed to ensuring all students are able to access a quality school close to where they live, while at the same time ensuring sound management of school space where student populations are stable over long term. The District also recognizes that school buildings are an important part of a complete and vibrant community.
    Tell us YOUR thoughts on the possibilities and challenges of school space as an important part of a complete and vibrant community.

  2. #2
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    Edmonton, Alberta


    Hello Ian,

    I'm guessing the "DP" in your name refers to Dialogue Partners. Recently I joined the committee this is providing oversight on the implementation of the sector review process.

    Much of the "surplus" space is currently serving children in other ways: early education programming, for example. I'm president of a not-for-profit preschool society that uses a classroom at Grovenor School. We have more than 40 students, but they are not counted when the district considers how well its buildings are being used.

    I'd also like to note that, when special needs are considered, it is possible for a class to be full without reaching 17-23 students (the provincial guideline). Weighted enrolment might be a better measure, and more accurately reflects the funding that is coming in to schools. For example, because Grovenor focuses on inclusive education, we attract a high number of children with autistic characteristics. (The school also does great work helping kids with FAS backgrounds.) The weighted enrolment is 38 student equivalencies beyond the number used by the district when measuring sustainability.

    Three classrooms at Grovenor are not currently needed for educational purposes. But they are occupied, too: by a daycare, which is pays the full market price for the space it uses, probably more than offsetting the maintanance costs. Best of all, rooms designed with children in mind are being used by children.

    In the workbooks the district has prepared for the Hardisty and City Centre reviews, the data that is highlighted consists of the total number of spaces theoretically available in the area and the base district enrolment, with no consideration for independent early education, special needs students or children attending daycares. I've received many calls and notes from parents in the last week or so who are concerned that the school board as taken the most pessimistic of perspectives, missing the complete picture.

    I'll take that issue to the next meeting and perhaps ask participants of this forum for their thoughts: Should how well a school is serving the children of the community be measured narrowly through district use, or broadly through use by all kids attending at the facility?

  3. #3


    Quote Originally Posted by Ian McC DP View Post
    Edmonton Public Schools is a district with 196 schools and 79,894 students. Even though some areas of the city are growing very quickly, enrolment in schools in some of the more mature areas is declining. By 2010, there will be 30,000 surplus spaces in Edmonton’s schools.
    Then why not bus kids from the new neighborhoods to the schools with declining enrolment? The people who choose to buy in neighborhoods that don't have a school should pay, as that is a choice they made. Closing a school in a mature neighborhood is incredibly short sighted, because eventually the original residents will move out, and new families move back in (if there is a school there). We need longer term planning that takes into account the importance of stopping the donut effect, whereby parents are being coerced to buy in unhealthy communities (i.e. need auto to get anywhere) on the outskirts. Building schools on the outskirts, and closing ones within the City, just changes that dynamic from coercian (sales pitch new home marketing), to force (as there will eventually be no alternative for families, but to live on the outskirts). That is in direct opposition to the Cities goal of a denser healthier City.
    Last edited by moahunter; 04-11-2009 at 12:00 PM.

  4. #4


    I'd like to challenge some of these assumptions about student population, enrolment and surplus spaces, since they are central to the issue of school viability:

    Edmonton Public Schools is a district with 196 schools and 79,894 students.
    1) It should be noted that EPSB's market share of students in Edmonton has declined. Since 2003, Edmonton Public total enrolment has declined by 2545 students, while over the same period Edmonton Catholic has grown by 1910 and Greater North Central Francophone district has added 900. The overall number of students in Edmonton is up, so this is not a demographic problem.

    By 2010, there will be 30,000 surplus spaces in Edmonton’s schools
    2) This is in large part exacerbated by six new ASAP schools opening next September, adding 4700 spaces ( This creates a tug-of-war between the subdivisions where these new schools are all being built, and mature areas. And why is EPSB adding more spaces on the one hand, and then having extended discussion about how to reduce space on the other?

    3) The definition of "surplus space" is fuzzy. Having participated in two school closure reviews, I have done a fair bit of research into enrolment and space calculations, and I still feel like I don't fully understand everything (and perhaps no one else really does either).

    There is the provincial utilization rate, based simply on square footage. It sometimes excludes rooms rented to pre-schools or not-for-profit child care from the useable space, but it does include non-instructional space. It often penalizes older buildings that have wide hallways, large boiler rooms, and even cafeterias. This calculation tends to result in the largest number of student spaces.

    Then there is the ACOL calculation that considers the Alberta Commission on Learning's recommended class sizes. I believe this is the number used most often when citing surplus spaces. It also has flaws, one of which is that all instructional rooms except for gymnasiums are included. Special purpose rooms such as science labs, art rooms and libraries are all considered student space that should be filled full-time.

    Finally, there is something called the Optimal Enrolment Limit, which is not widely publicized. This measure seems to be the most realistic of the three, using input from the school's principal to calculate the actual number of spaces available for constant use. The OEL is only calculated for schools with larger enrolments, but of 107 schools with OEL numbers from 2008, the OEL space was on average 92% of the ACOL number for the same school. If extrapolated across all schools, the difference is 7930 less instructional spaces available.

    So: the bottom line is if EPSB had not lost any students to other districts in Edmonton, the total enrolment would be 2545 greater resulting in 27,455 surplus spaces. In addition, if no new schools had been added, the surplus would decrease another 4700 to 22,755. And if the OEL number were used instead of ACOL there would be 7930 less available spaces, bringing the surplus figure down to 14,825. By doing a poor job or recruiting and retaining students, adding additional schools while claiming there are already too many spaces, and by choosing one formula over another, is it reasonable to say that the "surplus spaces" may be overstated by 100%.

    If there are roughly 80,000 out of 110,000 available spaces in use, about 27% are surplus. But if enrolment were actually 82,545 out of 97,370 spaces (using OEM and excluding ASAP), then there are only 15% surplus spaces. I know there are some "what-ifs" in here, but it's a big difference in a fundamental assumption underlying this whole discussion.


    - Nick

    PS: Stats from Alberta Education and EPSB. Also, I have a six-page document from "Rethink Ritchie" on OELs if anyone wants it.

  5. #5

    Default Yet Another Boiled Frog?

    Yet Another Boiled Frog? (

    It seems to me that this dialogue is happening too late. EPSB has already made the decision to build new schools, which since we have 'surplus' space, means closing existing schools. How school space is used is closely related student transportation, but the decision to build new schools was made before completing a review of student transportation (completed October 13, 2009 by Stantec

    If we have 30,000 'surplus' spaces for students and only 79,894 students we have a very serious problem that involves more than just the Greater Hardisty and City Centre Areas. Most of Edmonton’s schools have an enrolment of less than 500 students. How many existing schools will have to be closed to to address this? If closing this many schools is the solution, even if we use them for other good purposes, this will be very disruptive to our children.

    So if these numbers are correct, how do we assure that this problem does not happen again? If, as one note posted on this forum says, students are choosing other school systems over EPSB Schools—all of the communities that make up Edmonton need to know why. Is this yet another boiled frog story? Do all stakeholders in Edmonton know about these problems, or is the plan to deal with this quietly, cluster by cluster, sector by sector, while the rest of us celebrate the opening of new schools?

    EPSB is asking for a 'bigger piece of the pie' (Edmonton Examiner, The seriousness of this request has to be put into context of current economic realities in Alberta.

    The EPSB has defeated motions to consider the use Geothermal heating. Please note what one high-school teacher said: “However, when the staff’s wish list went to the Edmonton Public School Board’s engineering consultants, geothermal heating was deleted. When I asked why, I was told that the building belonged to the school board and they could do what they liked.” [1]

    Here is a highly respected member of our community, a knowledgeable teacher, saying: “I was told that the building belonged to the school board and they could do what they liked.” Has this attitude changed? Really?

    After reading Stantec’s report on student transportation, my conclusion is that there are considerable cost savings and service improvements to be made with more effective planning and management.

    Why are the communities of Edmonton continually asked to take significant time away from their lives and families to try to solve only part of the problem?

    There is a better way… Why do we not have a local, award winning, internationally respected, facility planning consulting firm put together an overall assessment and plan for our facilities in Edmonton? Then when we have the facts together, let’s have an effective dialogue on our options.

    [1] Edmonton Journal 09/01/23 “As a high school science teacher, I teach students about energy conservation and alternatives to the current carbon based energy production. I would love to see schools heated (and cooled) using geothermal. It would be wonderful if schools chose to lead by example. But I am also frustrated. My school, Strathcona High School, is set to begin $15 million in renovations this spring — most of which will be spent on a complete overhaul of the heating and electrical systems. When staff was asked last year what changes we would like to see during the renovations, geothermal heating was near the top of the list. Since the heating system has to be removed and replaced, it seemed a good time to sink pipes into the ground for geothermal heat. However, when the staff’s wish list went to the Edmonton Public School Board’s engineering consultants, geothermal heating was deleted. When I asked why, I was told that the building belonged to the school board and they could do what they liked. When I see that taxpayers are footing the bill for the board’s $7.9-million natural gas costs each year, I would like to think that geothermal heating for Strathcona was seriously considered before it was discarded.”

  6. #6

    Default A few thoughts from Trustee Sue

    I'm enjoying reading the conversation and thank everyone for participating. I would like to comment on a couple of ideas I've read.

    A few people have posted regarding the disconnect of EPSB building new schools while experiencing a space surplus. To clarify- the new ASAP schools are not being built and funded by the Edmonton Public School Board, as in years past. They are being provided by the provincial government under a new Private-Public Partnership (P3). As the city of Edmonton has expanded, many neighbourhoods are without schools. These ASAP schools are the province's response to this situation. Having many schools come on stream, at the same time, while we are experiencing declining enrolment in the city core, has heightened the urgency of dealing with our space challenge. Each of these ASAP schools is large (650-850 students), so we estimate that 5000 additional spaces will come on stream in Sept. 2010. 5000 new students will not magically appear to fill these spots, rather they will be pulled from existing schools. As we know, we are funded on a per pupil basis, not a "school" basis. So if 5000 students move and take their funding with them, it will have a dramatic impact on many, many schools across the District. Teachers, Principals, support staff, custodians, etc. will also be needed at the new schools. Again, we are not funded per school, so the money will need to be drawn from existing sources to get these schools up and running.

    The comments re: class space being used for arts, music, shop class, etc. is a point well-taken. We know the public expects us to deliver a well-rounded education and this expectation necessitates having appropriate spaces for specific subjects. We will need to carefully consider how this space is factored in.

    RE: the "hallways, cafeterias, etc." argument. To be clear, we no longer use a square footage model- we rely on the ACOL calculations to arrive at our numbers. However, the point is well-taken that special needs children require lower class sizes and that schools that are inclusive, like Grovenor, should not be penalized for adapting to the needs of these students.

    Clearly, this is a complex issue and I appreciate you wrestling with this complexity.

    Best regards,
    Sue Huff
    Trustee, Ward C

  7. #7

    Default Red Herring?

    Thank you Trustee Huff for your comments. Dialogue had seemed a bit sparse…

    I feel that I am not grappling so much with the complexity of the issue as its magnitude. I believe that the issues being discussed here have an impact on all stakeholders of K-12 education in the district of Edmonton and consequently need to be understood.

    I am not necessarily directing these questions to yourself, but I would like to know…

    If the ratio of ‘surplus’ space to enrolment [1] is currently 38% what would the right ratio be? What is EPSB’s target? With my taxpayer hat on I would like it of course to be zero, but what is the impact of this on students and communities? I would be happy to be corrected on this, but if EPSB has not had a deficit is the issue of extra space a ‘red herring’?

    With as many as 5,000 students (plus principals, teachers, etc.) leaving our, generally smaller[2], schools for the new schools next year when 50% of all schools in Edmonton already have declining enrolment[3], what will the impact be on existing programs? Will there be a cascade of school closures in Edmonton in the coming years?

    While it is true that the The Three-Year Capital Plan 2010-2013, approved April 21, 2009, page 52, says that were ‘no schools requested’ for 2010; the plan requests three schools in 2011 and four more beyond that. So the contention that there is a ‘disconnect of EPSB building new schools while experiencing a space surplus’ still stands.

    Kind regards,
    [1] It would be good for the public to be able to understand these claims regarding 'surplus' space and enrolment better. For example, the number for total enrolment provided to this forum may include some children that are distance/home educated (e.g. Argyll Home Education Services Centre) which perhaps should not be included in the same way in discussions of space.
    [2] Most schools in Edmonton have less than 500 students enrolled in them.
    [3] As of September 30, 2009.

  8. #8


    While we debate the numbers, I think we need also to be debating policies of EPSB, the City and the province. On the EPSB side, their policies around alternative programs that have led to many fine community schools having students drained out of them through opting to go to alternative programs which attract establishment grants, subsidized advertising and bussing. I am not against choice, but EPSB continues to look at adding new alternative programs despite enrolment drops which simply divides a finite and shrinking number of students between a more prolific list of programs. This also affects the options for children with special needs, who are not encouraged or supported to participate or eligible for a number of these learning opportunities.
    On the city side, we should be lobbying for increased density of housing in inner neighbourhoods that is family-friendly. On the provincial level, the list is long... too long to comment on here. While the district focuses on closures, it should also work on reviewing its own policies and how it can influence other levels of government.

  9. #9


    The ACOL numbers are not realistic and I believe that a visual demonstration of that would be instructive. We should pick a school, find enough volunteers to match the ACOL number and then all gather there. We could then take a picture of just how crowded it is when we match the actual number of students to ACOL numbers. I would be willing to volunteer for this endeavour. Anyone else?

  10. #10

    Default Measuring Tape

    I would be happy to join such an effort. I have a professional quality camera with an wide angle lens and would be glad to take photos. Just as important though, we should take a tape or laser measure.

    I strongly believe that when serious decisions are to be made (and the time of parents and community is to be called upon) that we should first understand the facts and that they should be verifiable.


  11. #11

    Default Parents show up but no school board officials

    CBC article Parents show up but no school board officials. My blog on this. What others have to say about this process. “don’t forget the meeting on Dec. 8th; the meeting with the people who can actually do something about this whole process.”

    Kind regards,

  12. #12
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    Hi Dale,

    I'm afraid the CBC report wasn't factual. Trustees Rice and (I believe) Ripley did attend the event during the scheduled discussion time. Probably they were not there for the entire evening, as it was mostly open house format.

    Soneil and I went to check things out as part of our sense of responsibility to the sector review advisory committee and, especially, community-based education. I made note of some suggestions to bring back to the EPSB. Although there was a list of partners located in buildings, any indication of how much space they occupied was missing. In other words, the real measurement of use -- by the district, early education providers, ABC Head Start and so forth -- remains obscured, and I couldn't figure out if there is space to merge any two schools in one building.

    Generally, the sector review process is not drawing big crowds, but I think part of that is exhaustion in Hardisty area. Parents and community leaders have been waiting so long for this, with so many false starts, engaging them now is quite a challenge. Plus, there is the reputation to overcome that feedback for public events might not have any impact on final plans.

    In the City Centre, some communities are very engaged, and others barely at all. Outreach to "marginalized" groups is something no communications team has mastered. There is always a drift to the path of least resistance, so unrepresented schools may be more at risk. Perhaps also there is some logic in the district wanting to work with engaged people. I'm not sure how I feel about that.



  13. #13


    Hi GG,
    Thanks for the update. I have corrected my blog. (Someone else also emailed me to let me know that trustees attended.)

    I emailed EPSB administration officials on November 25 asking them to validate or clarify the space calculations and numbers. They confirmed the receipt of my email on November 26 and said: “If the methodology and assumptions are clear, we will respond within a few days. If not, it may take longer.” Hopeful I will hear back from them soon…

    Kind regards,

  14. #14


    As a parent of 3 children in a CCEP school, I am frustrated by this whole "Sector Review" process and with the mandate of Dialogue Partners itself. At the Dec. 1 meeting, I asked Dialogue Partner's facilitators if it was known how many student spaces EPSB was looking to cut. I was told, "There are no numbers because nothing has been decided". I said, "I'm sure we wouldn't be in this process if School Board planners didn't have a number in mind." Again, I was told, "Nothing has been decided, absolutely no conclusions have been reached". At that point, I left the official "conversation" table and went to talk with the group of Planners. I asked them how many numbers they were looking to cut. At first I was given the same line (we're not sure, nothing has been decided upon). Then EPSB Planner Jack Elgert spoke up and said that based on some initial calculations, they were looking to cut approximately 1000 students spaces from CCEP schools. I found this information very helpful.

    Either Dialogue Partners is not given the facts or they are lying about what they know. I tend to believe that they have not been given the facts. All of this makes the process less of a true "conversation" and more of just another exercise in "spin" and public relations.

  15. #15


    When we first began this process, we thought that our ideas about what we wanted to see in our community schools would help PREVENT school closures - that we were being invited to the dialogue before ANY decisions had been made, but in fact, parents are just being asked to give input on which schools to close and what should fill the empty space once closures take place. The review of whether or not spaces needed to be closed in the first place has already happened and been decided upon. Spaces will be cut. To quote Dialogue Partners, "Change is coming!" This decision has already been made.

    At the Trustee meeting on Dec. 8, someone said, "School closure is never Plan A." Really? Then what other plans were explored, what research was done into other creative ways to keep and grow our existing programs? At the Dec. 1st. workshop, I asked the following questions:

    The numbers tell us that we have enough children in the CCEP area to fill all 7 schools. What research has been done as to the reasons why so many community children are going to school outside our community?

    Has any promotion of our CCEP schools been done in an effort to increase enrollment?

    I was told that leasing fees for community groups that utilize our schools don't even cover the costs of utilities. Then why are we focusing on leasing as a viable option to deal with our space issues? It doesn't seem fiscally responsible. Our schools need money and money comes through enrollment. I wish the money spent on this Sector Review had been spent on a researching, developing, and implementing a way to bring more students in.

  16. #16
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    ^ I can offer a bit of insight on leasing piece. The district offers space based on the status of the renter. For example, a privately-operated daycare pays approximately market value, whereas a not-for-profit preschool receives a subsidized rate.

    I thought the materials presented at the workshops were incomplete in that, although there was a list of partners in the buildings, no measurement was provided as to how much space they occupy. It remains unclear how many classrooms are actually unoccupied in the CCEP and Hardisty mini-sectors. Trustees recently passed a motion declaring partnerships as good uses of school space.

    How well city centre schools are serving local populations is something that needs to be considered. For example, the junior high component of Parkdale School has about 90 kids, while more than 300 EPSB students, Grades 7, 8 and 9, live in the catchment area.

    The junior high at Crestwood, in one of Edmonton's richest neighbourhood, is overfull, with a utilization rate of 102 per cent and two portables on site. Yet there are only (off the top of my head) 37 EPSB students of that age residing in the attendance area.

    That's actually a pretty consistent trend since the opening of boundaries: schools in rich communities are doing very well in attracting children, while schools in poor communities are struggling to compete. Demographics are an issue, to be sure, but we've created a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

    Why aren't schools such as Parkdale receiving a fairer share of the students living nearby? That's an EPSB problem as opposed to something that can be blamed on the city.

    Based on where students actually live, Parkdale should be in decent shape, and Crestwood up for review. Instead, Crestwood is on the list to get its second multi-million dollar upgrade in less than 20 years.

  17. #17


    Quote Originally Posted by Green Grovenor View Post
    Based on where students actually live, Parkdale should be in decent shape, and Crestwood up for review. Instead, Crestwood is on the list to get its second multi-million dollar upgrade in less than 20 years.
    It is an interesting trend. In cities where school zones are tightly restricted and schools more sparse, a neighborhoods land prices will be directly linked to school zones. In the City I grew up, a house on one side of the street is today worth more than 100k more than a house on the other side, due to a desirable school zoning running down the west side of the road.

    If that trend is unstoppable, then new schools should only be built in neighborhoods that will probably end up wealthy. Build a new school in Windermere, but don't built one in the new neighborhoods over the AHD from Millwoods. I think that's a pretty sad logic though, almost as sad and short sighted as destroying family neighborhoods that are about to renew, by removing the school, just before the get the chance to renew.

  18. #18
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    Any thoughts on the possibilities that Capilano, Gold Bar, Hardisty, and Fulton Place area schools are on the potential closing lists? these are fairly desirable areas on the east side, potential uses!

  19. #19
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