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City endorses sale of surplus public school lands in Kiniski Gardens to private school

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2021-01-19 Lauren Boothby
a sign on a brick building: Headway School, a private school located at 10435 76 St. in Edmonton, has purchased a parcel of land in southeast Edmonton to construct a new building. © Provided by Edmonton Journal Headway School, a private school located at 10435 76 St. in Edmonton, has purchased a parcel of land in southeast Edmonton to construct a new building.

Plans to sell surplus school lands in Kiniski Gardens to an independent school were endorsed by city council Monday, despite long-standing opposition from the school board saying it puts the public system in jeopardy.

Headway School, described on its website as a “culture-based” school that offers instruction in the Punjabi language, has been trying to buy a parcel of land south of St. Kateri Catholic School at the intersection of 38 Avenue NW and 38 Street NW since 2016. The committee voted unanimously to sell the land for $2.5 million.

Edmonton Public Schools declared the site surplus in 2009 and neither the Catholic or French-language school boards had interest in using it at the time. But when Headway Schools attempted to buy the lot from the city, the public board opposed the sale saying it could threaten the viability of nearby schools. Board chairwoman Trish Estabrooks said their position hasn’t changed.

“The potential is there that they’re siphoning students away from the public division, which we again believe is the best avenue in which to educate students given public education’s role in being accessible to everyone,” she said Monday.

“This will impact Edmonton public and our ability to offer what is important diverse programming within the public setting.”

Estabrooks said she thinks there would be a better use for the land that would greater serve the public.

But school principal Jagwinder Singh Sidhu said the children who attend the school, currently located at 10435 76 St., are members of the public and the community. He said the school is open to everyone.

Sidhu said having the ability to send children to a school where Punjabi is taught helps preserve their culture and supports multiculturalism in Canada.

“Eighty per cent of all the kids from other communities go to public schools and they’re doing a wonderful job, but there are some people like me who think that sending your child to public school is like cultural genocide,” he said.

“Only 30 per cent know their language. It’s time we started giving communities infrastructure and remove all these monopolizing methods, trying to bully the minorities into a corner, monopolizing the public money.”

Moving the school from 76 Street to this location would aim to cut down the commute time for students.

a statue of a man and a woman standing in front of a building:  Headway School principal J.S. Sidhu spoke on June 20, 2017. © Elise Stolte Headway School principal J.S. Sidhu spoke on June 20, 2017.

Councillors discussed whether selling the land to a competitor of the public system was consistent with the joint use agreement between the school divisions and the city.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said she agreed it is allowed.

“As we have heard many times, I think in other contexts, when lands are designated for school uses, neighbourhoods do appreciate it when they go to school uses. We’ve heard that in many other contexts,” she said.

The sale must still be finalized by council.

Mayor Don Iveson said he thinks a school makes sense to be placed on this site and there may be exceptions to when private use for public lands makes sense.

But he, and other councillors, expressed interest in revisiting the agreement between school boards and the city about how to manage publicly-owned lands in their portfolios.

Edmonton Public Schools has declared more than 40 vacant school sites as surplus since 1991, said Megan Normandeau, spokeswoman for Edmonton Public Schools.

Most sites were reverted to the city, but other school divisions have opted to claim some of these lands, she said. The last vacant sites given to the city were lands in Klarvatten, Ozerna and Oleskiw in 2015.

lboothby@postmedia.com

@laurby

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