Lobbying pays off for Red Earth Creek

School board successful in getting school they want

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Red Earth Creek is growing and will have a new school to match this growth.

Mid-March, the Government of Alberta announced money for construction of the school, but didn’t mention the size.

Over the last few months, Peace River School Division (PRSD), which runs the Red Earth Creek School, had lobbied the government for a bigger building than what was originally promised.

On March 26 in the late afternoon, the PRSD received written confirmation that the new school will be the one requested, says Kristin Dyck, Communications Coordinator for PRSD.

PRSD had been hoping to replace the Red Earth Creek School for about 10 years, says Crystal Owens PRSD board chair.

She started on the board seven years ago, and it was already a priority.

Red Earth Creek is a hamlet in the M.D. of Opportunity. The M.D. council has also been involved for years trying to get a new school.

However, funding for school construction in Alberta comes from the Government of Alberta and every school division in the province wants to replace schools, so funding takes time.

Last March, the province announced design funding for a new Red Earth Creek School. However, the design which the division received this winter didn’t meet the school’s needs.

Over the last four or so years, the population of the school doubled, says Owens.

“Red Earth Creek isn’t getting smaller,” she says.

It is 165 km north of Slave Lake on Hwy. 88. The 2021 Canada Census lists the population of the community at 315 people, of whom 90 were between the age of zero and 19 years.

In the 2023-24 school year, the school has 106 students, says a PRSD news release.

The main industries in Red Earth Creek are forestry and oilfield. In the area, the oilfield is booming.

Red Earth Creek is on the Clearwater oil ‘play’ (a group of oilfields in the same geologic region).

An October 2023 Financial Post article describes the Clearwater play as the “the most heavily drilled play in the province in the past several years.”

A promised highway will also likely foster more growth in the future.

In spring 2023, the Government of Alberta announced it will build a gravel highway connecting Red Earth Creek with Fort McMurray. The times haven’t been announced, but the road will take five years to build once the engineering is finished.

With this growth in mind, PRSD lobbied the province for a bigger school.

Companies in Red Earth need employees in the trades, says Owens. However, many people don’t hear about these training options until they are adults and have left the community. With this in mind, PRSD is working to expose students to trades earlier. If they know they can get jobs in their community, maybe they will stay.

The Alberta curriculum includes career and technology studies (CTS) courses, but schools need a space to offer these classes.

The original design had a CTS space, but one that was only 142 square metres.

This isn’t large enough to safely offer CTS courses, says Owens. She learned this from a Northern Lakes College expert who attended a lobbying meeting for the school.

The board also asked for two more classrooms, so they wouldn’t have to add modular classrooms in the near future, and more storage space, because the rec centre doesn’t have space for gym equipment.

The lobbying was successful. The new plan has a 200 m2 CTS space, two more permanent classrooms, and 43 square metres of storage space. The condition of the larger school is the division paying $250,000 toward the school. This it has ready to go from $150,000 donated by the M.D. of Opportunity and $100,000 from PRSD’s capital surplus.

PRSD received support in advocacy from parents, M.D. councillors, community members, and the three MLAs – Scott Sinclair MLA for Lesser Slave River, Todd Loewen Minister of Forestry and Parks and MLA for Central Peace-Notley, and Dan Williams MLA for Peace River.

In a news release from the United Conservative Caucus, Sinclair says, “I have been a strong advocate for this project to ensure students in northern Alberta have ready access to world-class education in a facility that supports their learning. There is no better investment than one made for our children’s future. They are the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Across Alberta, the provincial government is investing $681 million in 2024 to design or build schools, adds the news release. This money will build 19 schools, design 16, and plan the funding for another eight.

Red Earth Creek school, in May 2022.

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