New Huntsville School approved

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IRON SPRINGS – It was news students and staff at Huntsville School had long been hoping to hear, but the anticipation only made Tuesday’s provincial school build announcement all the sweeter.

The provincial government announced that Palliser Regional Schools’ early learning and kindergarten through Grade 9 school in Iron Springs is one of nine in Alberta which will be replaced.

Although specific budget dollars have yet to be determined for a new school building at Iron Springs, the province has allocated $500 million in total for eight brand new schools, nine replacements and seven modernization projects across Alberta.

“It’s certainly very exciting news for our community,” said Huntsville School Principal Chris Spanos. “I know staff and families have been looking forward to a potential announcement, and hearing it will be a replacement will certainly be well received.”

Huntsville School was built in 1941, with additions in 1951 and 1958. Further improvements were made in 2013, but a high water table and resulting drainage problems needed to be addressed. As a result, use of the school’s basement has been limited.

The project had initially been designated for a minor modernization. The plans were later upgraded to a major modernization with a budget of up to $7 million.

“Palliser appreciates the commitment of the provincial government to address much needed infrastructure replacement,” said Robert Strauss, chair of the Palliser Board of Trustees, adding it will be an exciting project for the entire Hamlet of Iron Springs, located northeast of Picture Butte.

Palliser is in the midst of an $8-million modernization of Noble Central School. Work started in January of 2016, with the second phase of the Nobleford school project underway.

Spanos said the investment shows the value of education in a small, rural community and should further support families becoming part of the school community.

“The parents of Huntsville School are highly engaged and have such great ownership and pride in their school. They'll be thrilled with the prospect of a new school for their children,” said Craig Whitehead, trustee for Iron Springs.

Huntsville School has a current enrolment of 128 students, with 33 of those in the alternative program for Low German-speaking Mennonite students in Grades 7-9.

The province has estimated that for almost all of the projects, construction will likely begin in 2018 with a projected opening of 2021.

Value assessment meetings were held in the community last spring to gain input from community stakeholders on issues which needed to be addressed in the existing school. Spanos, in his second year as principal at Huntsville School, said it was also an opportunity to suggest features they’d like to see in a modernization, or new build.

That wish list included a larger gym to accommodate a growing interest in interschool athletics, as well flexible learning space and possibly a kitchen that could accommodate a foods program.

He said there was also a desire for a “warm, inviting space” to encourage further partnerships with the community and offer support to area families as a whole. Huntsville School started offering an English Language Learning class for parents this year.