The funding announcement for the first new public school since two were opened in 2017 fulfills a critical need in Cochrane, says Fiona Gilbert, chair of the Rocky View Schools (RVS) board of trustees.

In the meantime, RVS will continue to address the pressing issue of rapidly growing student populations in both Cochrane and Airdrie.

"We do need to make some changes now, but this will now allow for more informed decisions, not guesses as to where government is going to put the support," says Gilbert. "We know for sure that they're coming, so this is absolutely great news for Airdrie and Cochrane."

With the announcement only hours old, details are limited on what to expect in terms of timelines, construction model or size of the future Rivercrest school. From the time a new school is announced it typically takes 18 to 24 months for construction to get underway. That means the opening of the Rivercrest school could be much as four years away.

peter Infrastructure minister Peter Guthrie participated in today's school projects announcement. (Photo/Peter Guthrie X, formerly Twitter)

Infrastructure minister Peter Guthrie, also the Airdrie-Cochrane MLA, says it's his priority to get the schools completed and students into their new classrooms. He was involved in today's announcement on school projects included in the 2024 Alberta budget.

"My ministry will be working closely with the Rocky View School Division to determine the best methods for delivering these school projects," says Guthrie in a written statement, "and we will continue to move full steam ahead on the school projects already underway to ensure they are completed on time and on budget."

Those current projects are the expansion and modernization of the Bow Valley High School (BVHS) and remaining modular classroom work for the new Holy Spirit School.

RVS expects the average utilization of its schools will hit 101 per cent by 2028. It was 93 per cent in October, up from 87 per cent last school year. In Cochrane. it was even higher, averaging 95 per cent. 

RVS is currently seeking public feedback on potential changes to school boundaries and grade levels served by Airdrie schools. In Cochrane, working groups are exploring potential solutions to address similar space pressures.

"Principals from schools in Cochrane have been meeting over the last year to look at numbers, look at projections, look at potential solutions as to how we can manage as we wait for new schools to be built."

When construction of the BVHS expansion begins, there will be short-term challenges on how to manage its student population. The expansion is anticipated to be completed by 2026.

"There is going to be some coordination efforts needed until we know who's building and when building is starting and what kind of phased approach they're taking. Those are pieces of information that are needed, but I have confidence in the school administration and the students that they will do their best to manage the circumstances and continue to provide great learning opportunities."

Cochrane has two other top 10 schools in the division's priority list. A new high school is ranked seventh and another K-8 is ninth. Taking into account today's announcements and student population growth estimates in all of the communities they serve, a new list of priorities will be developed by the division. The board is scheduled to debate its capital plan on Mar. 21.

Also expected in the near future is an announcement on how many of the modular classrooms sought by the division will be approved.