An agreement nine years in the making was finalized last night that will allow the town to begin work on the future Horse Creek Sports Park and Rocky View Schools to establish a new high school site.

Town council approved the purchase of 130 acres from Rocky View Schools (RVS) for the future sports park. Another 30 acres of the land has been earmarked for a new high school.

The town is paying $1,575,560 for the land and has agreed to service the high school site. It's being paid from the town's municipal infrastructure reserve and will not impact property taxes.

Site preparations, including stripping, grading and the installation of utilities to support the high school and sports park amenities are expected to begin in late 2024.

The finalization of the agreement was music to the ears of Councillor Tara McFadden, a long-time advocate for recreation in the community.

"It was great to be able to work with our partners, the Rocky View School Division, to advancing a much-needed high school site, and, of course on the recreation side, to be able to take that important step in advancing outdoor recreation in Cochrane," she said in supporting the motion of Councillor Alex Reed.

There's been some bumps on the road since RVS acquired the land and approached the town to purchase the lion's share of the land for recreation. 

RVS was initially unsuccessful in getting the land rezoned for the development of a school when it was within Rocky View County. That all changed when the town annexed the land as part of its expansionary vision.

READ MORE: Public hearing on land-use designation annexed land will continue Dec. 9

A Southland Transportation yard was part of the plan but was later withdraw after residents of Heritage Hills and Heartland expressed concern over further traffic congestion. 

The master plan originally approved for the park in 2021 also needs to be revisited. In 2023, it was determined the size of the stormwater pond required for park/school needed to be increased, and requiredthe relocation of the high school site. Consequently, the park plan needed to change.

READ MORE: Sports Park concept plan gets thumbs up from rec committee

"The concept plan will be designed based on the recreation needs assessment that is happening in the fall of 2024, and available to the public in 2025," Michelle Delorme, manager of community services, told council last night.

Mayor Jeff Genung had hoped a joint high school and recreation centre could be developed on the land, but at this point in time, has not been supported by the school division. While Rocky View Schools is open to a collaboration with the town, it rejected the idea, fearing it would further delay the development of a desperately needed high school. The division has included the high school in its 2026 capital budget.

In April, town council directed administration to explore ways of creating more site space by relocating or building over the stormwater pond, leading to the idea of a joint venture.

Mayor Jeff Genung expressed disappointment in the stance taken by the school division, calling it shortsighted.

"I don't want to delay the school at all, that's not the intent of my notice of motion. It was actually to explore a partnership. I don't see why we couldn't sign an MOU (memorandum of understanding) that says if you get a school, we can build two buildings with shared parking. There's opportunities to do both."

Councillor Marni Fedeyko received support for her motion to strictly accepting the report for information and not to spend further money on exploring stormwater pond options.

"We have an RFP out on our rec centre as it is, and I think there is some uncertainty there as to perhaps what that ownership will look like in the future. I also don't want to delay any of the school build. I think most residents that have kids in the school system are already chomping at the bit to get this going."

She felt the idea was rushed.

"I think if we're going to do some creative, something that could meet the demands of the community, I want spend some time actually doing it properly, not trying to squeeze it in amongst all the other construction projects we have on the go."

The idea of a joint venture isn't yet dead yet, in the eyes of the mayor or administration.

Drew Hyndman, town executive director of development and infrastructure said while the school division is anxious to get the school site ready, it doesn't prevent further discussions on different opportunities for partnerships on the site in the future.