News / Calgary

Letter from Calgary Heritage Authority appeals to premier to save Elbow Park School

Calgary's heritage authority has made a last-ditch pitch to Alberta's premier to review whether a flood-damaged school in her own riding can be spared from the wrecking ball.

Metro was provided letters Wednesday addressed to Alison Redford and Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk claiming a decision by Calgary Board of Education trustees to tear down Elbow Park School circumvents proper process, comes despite having inadequate information and raises questions about the lengths taken to consult the public.

The school saw water pool underneath it causing severe structural damage during June's historic flood. Before voting last week in favour of demolishing the school and rebuilding it, trustees were told that attempts to restore the site could cost up to 55 per cent more.

But Scott Joliffe, who serves as chair of the Calgary Heritage Authority and wrote the letters dated Monday, said the school is listed on a Calgary's Inventory of Evaluated Historic Resources along with more than 700 other facilities and, as a result, should be subject to what's known as a "historic resource impact assessment." He hopes that move would provide options for saving the school and definitive costs to do so.

"We believe that there's not enough data to make an informed decision," he said. "There are only vague references to what it could cost."

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson did say in an interview Sunday his understanding was there were "no guarantees" if an attempt to save the original school was undertaken.

The letters appeared to do little to budge the province into further assessing the school when questioned on the matter Wednesday.

"Elbow Park School is owned by the Calgary Board of Education," said Alberta Education spokesperson Leanne Niblock in a written statement. "The CBE decided to rebuild, as I understand it, based on the recommendation from their administration and consultations with the community and parents."

Premier Redford is on a trade mission in India and was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

But Nathan MacBey, head of the school parent council, reinforced that his members were consulted, added they offered "overwhelming" support for rebuilding the school.

As well, MacBey said efforts are planned to retain some of the exterior features of the school — some have said Elbow Park resembles something straight out of the wizard world of the Harry Potter novels — and possibly parts of its library.

"There's been a lot of discussion on how we actually preserve a lot of the history in the building," he said. "That's probably going to be come more and more important as the days progress now."

Elbow Park students are currently being taught at a modular school constructed in the field of Earl Grey School. It's hoped a replacement school on the original site will be ready in time for the 2016-17 school year.

The flood-displaced kids from the school were being housed previously at the vacant Eugene Coste School, which will now house a Spanish bilingual program this fall.

But parents from the Spanish program have complained that Coste is 14 kilometres from their current facility, Westgate School, and questioned whether money to rebuild Elbow Park couldn't be better spent to address surging demand for school space in Calgary's west-end.

Joliffe said, meanwhile, conceded the assessment of Elbow Park requested from the province is likely the last action his group can take to save the facility. He informed the premier in his letter that demolishing the school, "would have a significant negative impact on heritage conservation efforts in Calgary."


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