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Sam Macdonald photo
Greg Appelt with Alberta Infrastructure (left), SPERD Trustee Heather Starosielski, and Superintendent Glen Brodziak discuss problems with the site of the new Two Hills Mennonite School, with residents on Aug. 28.
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Two Hills Mennonite community urges SPERD, government to move school site

Sep 02, 2014 12:00 pm | Sam Macdonald

Two Hills Mennonite School parents came out in force to a meeting last Thursday to express their dismay over the site of a planned new school, after construction progress stalled when an old water well was hit at the site earlier this year.

Since then, construction has been delayed on the school, which received approval for a new building in 2010.

“The foundation is there. And also the walls are up for the gym. They’ve been up for a year,” said parent council co-chair Cornelio Neufeld in an interview prior to the meeting. But the community was losing hope, he felt. “They are not being patient. They are giving up. They don’t believe anything is going to happen.”

If the project were to go ahead, there was a consensus most of the estimated 100 people gathered at the meeting that the site should be moved. Town of Two Hills Mayor Henry Neufeld sent a letter in support of moving the site, while MLA Shayne Saskiw, who was also present at the meeting, voiced his support for such a plan.

Most of those in attendance as guests were critical of the division for showing any interest in building at the first site chosen for the new school, where construction was interrupted by the presence of water flow from an artesian well.

“We didn’t see too much movement and now that we’ve heard about that artesian well and all of that, I don’t think we are safe with that site as it is. For that matter, I think we should move,” said Neufeld. After he asked guests to show their hands if they supported that plan, the majority present raised their hands.

Representatives from St. Paul Education Regional Division and the Government of Alberta explained what changes were made to the school due to the presence of an artesian well at the site.

SPERD Trustee Heather Starosielski spoke to guests, saying that the division has received assurances from the consultants and engineers, that the site is safe, and that the safety of their children is the first priority of the project.

In response to a question about whether the project is planned to go ahead on the same site, project manager Greg Appelt with Alberta Infrastructure said that decisions would be made once the necessary reports were finished and consulted.

Guy Smith, executive director of the Learning Facilities Branch of Alberta Infrastructure, added the government is working with the contractor to figure out a new price for the project, and doing an assessment of the dangers at the site.

A county resident asked if there was any indication of water at the school site before the project began.

Appelt said, “We had a full site investigation done including bore holes, and environmental assessment…and the bore holes did show water.”

The resident said, “Well that’s how it’s problematic to start with. I’m a construction superintendent, and that would be a big problem for me.”

After him, another resident said, “It’s going to be safe now, but will it be in 10 years? I want to hear a guarantee.”

Appelt responded to both, and said that because of the constructability issues the water presented, the decision was made to build the school on a construction slab on top of piles that go straight down to bedrock, with an extensive water drainage system underneath, after the well was capped.

He noted that any shifting of the slab would not cause a collapse, and would be very minor.

“We want something that lasts for 30 or 50 years, not five or 10. We’re confident the school isn’t going to collapse, there’s no safety issue there,” said Appelt.

Two Hills area resident Linda Nichols-Mandrusiak said, “Even if you build it straight and it doesn’t move and all that works, it won’t hold all the students. It’s too small, right from the get-go.” With enrolment growing every year, the new school is expected to need portables by the time it opens.

Starosielski said that when planning for the school started taking place in 2011, there was no other site in town for the school to be built.

“Given hindsight is 20/20, we’d all like to change that decision. (SPERD) has been asking for a bigger building to be built but we’ve been denied by the government…because we have another school within this town with a utilization rate of 39 per cent,” said Starosielski.

Supt. Glen Brodziak said, “Where it’s been steady growth, we’ve seen 50 students a year…I’m a parent and the last thing I want to do is put my kid in a school that might not be safe. I have to trust that people know what they’re doing, and experts are going to make the best decision at the time.”

“To scratch this whole thing would cost a lot of money. We also have to trust when we are being told things are safe. Would I put my kid in this school? Based on what I know, yes I would. Would I have apprehensions like you people have today? Yes I would.”

Several guests asked about gases like methane and radon, and the presence of the water well potentially causing problems with mold.

Appelt told them that there has been a level of methane detected at the site that could be potentially be problematic but that a fan-aided ventilation system is planned to deal with it. He noted that there would be a membrane used in construction of the slab, to prevent water from seeping up and creating mold. There were no tests for radon conducted.

At the end of the discussion, Cornelius asked guests, once again, if they wanted the school moved. The majority of those present raised their hands a second time.

“I think it was productive enough, in that we got out the message out there. Everyone was able to give their opinion on what they thought,” said Cornelio, in a call to the Journal after the meeting.

“As it is, everyone feels that it’s a safety concern, and that the school should be moved to the east side of town. I don’t know if we’ve accomplished too much yet. They said they’d send a letter to the government, after we requested, and I think we should too.”

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