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News: August 20, 2018

 GYPSD addresses potential Wildwood School closure

“It's not about the Wildwood School closing, it's so much bigger”: Board Chair Rosadiuk

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
 “School boards are responsible for making decisions about school closures because locally elected trustees are in the best position to evaluate and respond to the unique circumstances and priorities of the communities they serve,” said Alberta Minister of Education David Eggen concerning Grande Yellowhead Public School Division's (GYPSD) current facility review process.
The board is currently in the process of reviewing the Wildwood School, Grand Trunk High School, and Evansview Elementary school facilities, considering the best options for the modernization of each.
“I recognize that the potential closure of a school may be worrisome to families, school staff, and the community,” Minister Eggen stated.
A report from GYPSD's facility review session in May stated that the schools all fail to meet the requirements of 21st century learning needs and are subjected to less diverse programming due to low enrollment. Due to the aging infrastructure of all three schools —the report stated— each has costly maintenance and operational fees, and the schools' smaller class sizes are prone to a grade-split, which is not a preferred option. 
Out of four possible options for the schools that were devised during the facility review session facilitated by Alberta Education, Alberta Infrastructure, and community stakeholder groups in Evansburg, one option posed a threat to Wildwood and its residents. In this option, Grand Trunk High School in Evansburg would be modernized and resized into a Kindergarten-Grade 12 school, while both Wildwood School and Evansview Elementary would be demolished and its students moved into Grand Trunk. The board stressed that this is only one of the options and that no decisions have yet been made.
“It's not about the Wildwood School closing, it's so much bigger,” said GYPSD chair Brenda Rosadiuk. “We want to provide the best learning opportunity and educational programs for the students of Wildwood and Evansburg within the resources that we have.”
“The Closure of Schools Regulation sets out basic requirements regarding the school closure process,” said Minister Eggen. “The regulation also specifies that a school board must provide members of the community with an opportunity to express their opinion, concerns, and ideas on the matter.” GYPSD held a community engagement session in Wildwood on June 14, inviting local and surrounding residents to voice their concerns, understand the facility review process, and provide valuable input on how the board could provide the best learning environments and programs for their students. “There is still another community engagement to go through, which we really value,” Rosadiuk said. “If we didn't feel there was such a value in our community engagements, we wouldn't have held them because they do cost the division money. We really value what they're saying and we don't want to make a decision without our communities' input.”
Rosadiuk mentioned how pleased the board was with the turnout during the engagement session, as locals and residents from surrounding communities attended to support their school and community. “We are so pleased that people have taken the time and effort to be concerned, to be positive, and to be supportive,” she said.
 Out of the engagement sessions in both Wildwood and Evansburg, GYPSD has issued reports which both address and express concerns raised by residents. “Any concerns that would be from our parents—whether in Evansburg or Wildwood—to do with busing or educational programming is a concern to the board,” Rosadiuk said.
The board additionally plans to address concerns by taking heed to them during their next engagement sessions which are said to be held in September, and mentioned that new ideas and options may even result from the sessions.

News: August 13, 2018

Wildwood residents distraught with possible closure of beloved school

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
Although still in the planning and discussion phase, Wildwood residents remain distraught over the news that their beloved Wildwood School may be subjected to closure in the coming months.
GYPSD is currently exploring options concerning the modernization of the Wildwood School, as well as Grand Truck High School and Evansview Elementary located in Evansburg. One of the options the board expressed was closing Wildwood School and Evansview Elementary to combine them into Grand Trunk High School where students are said to be offered a variety of programs and extracurricular activities.
However, many Wildwood residents believe that these extra-curricular activities and programs will not be achievable for their children if moved to Evansburg for schooling due to increased traveling times. “Some kids are already on the bus for an hour to begin with,” said local resident and Wildwood School parent council chair Deb Verhaeghe....
Local resident and Wildwood Councilor Anthony Giezen expressed the importance of sporting activities offered by Wildwood School, referring it as a major aspect of the community's “social fabric”.
“We're pretty big on our sports,” he said, mentioningtheir basketball, volleyball, and baseball programs that run throughout the year. “If the kids aren't able to attend that, it seems that they would get pushed out of that circle.”
Other programs offered by the school are also in danger of change or possibly termination if Wildwood School is to shut down. A successful reading program, which Councilor Giezen says is “above average”, may be affected due to the lack of one-on-one connections between teachers and students in larger schools...
 
See the August 13, 2018 issue of The Weekly Anchor for the full story along with LETTERS from local residents....

 

News: August 6, 2018

Potential closure of Wildwood School threatens community

by Cassie Kushniruk

Amidst rumors and speculation, the beloved Wildwood School may face permanent closure in the months to come, ultimately to be decided by the school board.
“Basically the school board is looking at the re-modernization of the Wildwood School, the elementary school in Evansburg, and the Grand Trunk High School in Evansburg,” Yellowhead County Mayor Gerald Soroka said. This potential re-modernization project would focus on combining the Wildwood School and the Evansburg elementary school into Grand Trunk High School. “It's just one of the options,” Soroka added.
Alberta Education's 2018 budget includes $742 million of consolidated capital investment for new school projects, which will be utilized to “support more than 200 projects, including new buildings and modernizations, across the province.” Grand Trunk —which will ultimately accept Evansview Elementary and Wildwood School children if the re-modernization project transpires— included their name on the list of the 200 projects that will be included in Alberta Education's project. “We know that every child in Alberta deserves an education that prepares them for success —whether they live in downtown Calgary or on a farm near Medicine Hat,” said Minister of Education David Eggen.
Although the closure has not yet been confirmed, the school board will continue to hold additional meetings to engage with the community to explore other options and ultimately come to a decision. “It is my understanding that they have not yet voted to close any schools in the Wildwood area and have been engaging with parents to find solutions to declining enrollment,” said Minister Eggen.
Statistics from the school board indicate that enrollment of the K-9 school is declining, with 137 children enrolled during the peak year of 2013-2014 and only 104 enrolled this past year. “We understand that rural schools often face unique challenges,” Minister Eggen said. “That's why we help boards with declining enrollment by providing funding through the Small School by Necessity and the Equity Opportunity grants.” Around 87 children are currently estimated to return in this next year, however, local school parent, Jennifer Hollman, mentioned, “I don't think they're taking into account the new kids coming in and the younger kids coming up.”
Hollman mentioned that the neglection of the school building may also play a role in the potential closing of the school. “It's really outdated,” she said. “It's been neglected for a long time and I think that they're using that as an easy way to say 'we're not going to put the money in even though our taxes are paying for the school'.”
As a local resident who has lived in Wildwood for only eight years, Hollman has already seen the substantial impact the Wildwood School has on the community, and expressed her fear that if the school were to be closed, the hamlet would essentially become a “ghost town”. “The school is definitely one of the pillars of the community.”
The Alberta government released a report in 2015-2016 where they looked at the impact of schools on rural communities. They case studied Raven School in the Medowlark County, which, similar to Wildwood School, had also been seeing a decline of student enrollment, decreasing from 111 students to 65 over a ten-year period. Due this and many other reasons, such as funding and program needs, the school was shut down, forcing many children to bus anywhere from 15 to 30 additional minutes to the next schools over. Raven started to see a decline in the community as they lost their community center after 100 years of service, and were forced to cancel plans they had to build a bridge with surrounding Indigenous and religious populations. To this day, Raven is classified as an “unincorporated community”.
Hollman expressed her fear in this, adding that the businesses, new families, and even real estate, will be substantially negatively impacted if the school were to be shut down. “It would decimate the community. Removing a school out of a community has proven to decline a community.” Mayor Soroka added, “If you don't have full amenities, how do you attract people to come?”
Another issue in the potential closure of the Wildwood school arises in bussing situations. Currently, many children are already spending anywhere from 10-15 minutes and up to one hour or more bussing to Wildwood School. To add even more bussing time would negatively impact students and their extra-curricular activities. “I have a special needs son that I can't even fathom him being on a bus for that long,” Hollman mentioned. “That's going to be very detrimental to his education.”
As an advocate for the school, Hollman started a petition in order to sway the school board to consider another solution. “My hope is that they'll take Wildwood off the table and leave the school in the community,” Hollman said. “Just to let the board know that the community is behind the school.”
And Hollman is certainly not the only one who wishes to keep the school in the community, as the petition has currently received over 450 signatures with 18 pages of 25 signatures on each page. “They're from all around in surrounding communities,” said Hollman. “We have signatures from Edson and Evansburg; they don't want to see a small town lose their school.” In the coming months, Hollman will continue to do whatever she can to sway the board, hoping to enlist the help of the MLA and Yellowhead County Councillors. “The petition is the first step,” she said.
A meeting is said to be held in the fall, in which the school board will ultimately decide whether or not the school will be closed. “I would love to see the Wildwood school re-modernized and look at other options for Evansburg,” Mayor Soroka said. “I don't want to see any of our schools closed in our community.”

(with corrections concerning bussing times)

News: July 30, 2018

County declines to support or cost share demolition
of Edson and District Recreation Complex

by Dana McArthur
 
During the Yellowhead County Council meeting July 24, Council was presented with a Request for Decision on the Demolition of the Edson & District Recreation Complex. This was in response to the Town of Edson's request for endorsement and cost sharing for the demolition Complex.
Mayor Zahara, on behalf of the town of Edson submitted a letter to Yellowhead County Council seeking County support for the demolition of the Edson & District recreation facility and to cost share in same at the rate of 35% of the demolition costs.
The Town's letter included the Recreation Complex being shut down by Alberta Health Services for asbestos related issues and that no party has any interest in the future operations of the facility as a whole, among the reasons to demolish the structure.
"At the June 26th County council meeting, Council expressed their concerns with respect to not having any detailed reports with respect to the condition of the facility and that options should be considered to re-purpose same," stated County CAO Jack Ramme.
It was the direction of Council at that time to set up a meeting with Town Council to review the matter in greater detail and request an independent study be made.
"On July 10th, the Council's of the Town and County met to review this matter, and the town advised that they are not prepared to invest any further into the facility and that they have the support of the community to demolish the facility," said Ramme.
"As the Town is the owner of the facility, the decision to proceed with demolition clearly rests with the town. The County did however advise the Town that they are not prepared to cost share in the demolition initiative," stated Ramme.
"To conclude this matter, the County needs to send a letter to the Town advising them that the County does not endorse the demolition project and will not cost share in the demolition," said Ramme.
Council voted all in favour of advising the Town the County does not support the demolition nor will it cost share in the demolition of the Edson and District Recreation Complex.

News: July 23, 2018

RV camping in hamlets debated at County

by Dana McArthur

During the Yellowhead County Council's Governance and Priorities meeting held July 17, administration asked for clarity from council regarding camping on County-owned property within its hamlets.
Yellowhead County currently does not specifically reference camping on County owned properties in any Land Use or other bylaws, although, residential property and street parking of RV's are both regulated.
Director of Community Services Christopher Read began, "As Yellowhead County creates desirable facilities and amenities within our hamlets, those facilities are hosting more events. With increased event bookings, we have received increasingly varied rental requests, including facility rentals with requests for camping on our property. These requests have so far been for RV's."
"Yellowhead County has historically allowed camping in Robb but only for special events at the Robb community operated campground, and in Wildwood we allow camping at Gunner Rhein park only for the ball tournaments. Marlboro also has hosted camping at their park, again only for the ball tournaments. Brule has allowed one or two RV's to stay in their parking lot during rentals, but up until recently the community group owned the land so we weren't involved – but now the County owns the land so this issue applies there as well," stated Read.
Currently, the hamlets have various existing camping options with no consistency across the region. These include random camping outside some hamlets, community operated group campgrounds, privately owned and operated campgrounds, and County owned campgrounds.
"Edson has allowed special event RV parking at the Rec Complex, and has allowed camping at the ball diamonds during tournaments; each case associated with a rental. Hinton has allowed minimal camping, on a case by case basis, at their Rec Complex as well," stated Read.
Councillor Wade Williams said, "I don't think campsite camping is what residents are looking for. During an event people would like to be able to park an RV in a parking lot without worrying about bussing or drinking and driving. The concern is noise, but if someone has to leave a large deposit I don't think this would be much of an issue."
Read pointed out that Brule did not want their hamlet turned into an RV campground and they already have a designated campground in the area.
Councillor Lavone Olson said, "Are there complaints and can we deal with them specifically instead of lumping them all together?" Read responded, "The complaint we had was from Brule, about the builder of the bike park we hired camping in the area." County had to send bylaw out because camping was not specifically allowed inside the hamlet. "We have residents asking why they can't and administration is saying we don't have a clear policy."
CAO Jack Ramme clarified, "Does council think the residents of the hamlets would tolerate RVs parking at these facilities?" He pointed out the parties could move out to the parking lots and the noise could become a quality of life issue in the hamlets.
Mayor Gerald Soroka added, "It's not necessarily just about potential noise from parties. It's 31 degrees outside today, now think about all those RV generators and air conditioners coming on all night. How many nearby residents are going to be happy with that? There are lots of things to consider with this."
Councillor Sandra Cherniawsky said, "In Evansburg we don't have a hotel and we don't have cab service. If we have a wedding at the Legion where do people go? I get why there are complaints, but I do not want to just say no and push people away from our communities."
Councillor David Russell said, "In Peers we have a quilting event for three days at the community centre with hundreds of people coming. They would like to park their RVs at the centre. The executive at the community centre would prefer not to have this as they are a volunteer group and don't want to be in charge of policing. Are we going to get complaints of a drunken party from a quilting group? —But I think if this goes forward it has to be on a case by case basis decided by the community groups running the facilities."
Councillor Shawn Berry pointed out the county does have a noise bylaw in place and loud parties could be shut down. Mayor Soroka responded that bylaw officers are not available at some hours, and if RCMP had to respond it takes away from their resources.
Read summarized, "One of the reoccurring concerns is who's going to take care of enforcement —how are we going to take care of residents and still allow this to happen? I'm reminded of music festivals where one of the requirements is on-site security. Do you think that's a way to weed out those who only want a shindig from those who what to run a responsible event?"
Ramme suggested that administration could compile the related bylaws and polices concerning RV parking in the hamlets then they could extrapolate from that to give a starting point on other potential policies or bylaws. Council agreed more information was needed.

News: July 16, 2018

Greyhound cancelling bus services in western provinces

by Dana McArthur

Greyhound Canada announced they are ending their passenger bus and freight services in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. This will include the cancellation of Greyhound buses along the Yellowhead Highway which makes stops in Edson and Yellowhead County hamlets along the way.
Greyhound states they will be keeping only one route in service between Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle. The changes will take place at the end of October this year and will make Ontario and Quebec the only provinces with continued service.
The company blames the cuts on a 41 per cent decline in ridership since 2010.  They also point to competition from subsidized regional passenger transportation, and the growth of low-cost airlines and car ownership. Greyhound has advocated for a government funding model that would allow private transportation services to bid on essential rural services.
For local residents and businesses that use the service it will leave a critical void accessing everything from medical appointments to package deliveries. It could leave rural residents particularly vulnerable without a network of scheduled bus routes connecting them together.
Yellowhead County Mayor Gerald Soroka stated, "Not everyone has a drivers licence or likes to drive in the city so it could have a significant impact on County residents, especially our seniors. But Greyhound is a private business that was offering a service that simply wasn't sustainable. There are other businesses delivering packages and offering transportation in the area including Sundog Transportation —so if they are talking government subsidy how do you pick and choose? Hopefully other businesses can fill the void."
Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara commented, "The loss of the Greyhound Bus service will impact many people and certainly is not good news for rural Alberta communities.  There are a lot of people that rely on the bus service to get to the city and other destinations who may not have access to other transportation options.  I know some of our local social services agencies rely on Greyhound for their clients so there will be impacts, especially for some of lower income residents." 
The province announced a rural transportation pilot project earlier this year focussed on local transit to test ways to provide senior-friendly transportation for those who have chosen to stop driving, or can no longer do so for medical reasons. But it is not a model that could viably replace the long distance routes serviced by Greyhound. Alberta's Transportation Minister Brian Mason called Greyhound's decision, "pretty drastic."
Mayor Zahara added, "On the bright side we have the SunDog bus that runs a daily shuttle between Jasper, Hinton, Edson and Edmonton so we may not feel the impacts as bad as some other communities in the province.  At the end of the day it is a private business and clearly it was not a sustainable business model.  Hopefully another company will see an opportunity to provide this type of service in Western Canada and to our community."

 News: July 9, 2018

USSSA Soft Ball All Nations Tournament at Vision Park

by Deanna Mitchener
 
The first annual USSSA Specialty Soft Ball All Nations Tournament was underway at Edson's Vision Park over the weekend of June 29 to July 1.
The weather held out for most of the weekend with only a couple of games played in the rain, but other than, that the weekend was great. 
The USSSA Specialty Soft Ball Tournament is the first of its kind in Canada. National Native American Program Director Lawson Edwards from Claremore, Oklahoma heard about Edson and Vision Park with lots of positive feedback about Edson once being the Slo-Pitch Capital of Canada. Lawson decided to bring the National Native All Nations Program and start an annual event here in Edson.
Edwards said, “Now that we have been here and know what all is available we can double in size next year.  This was a learning curve for both Rotary and ourselves.”
Rotary spokespersons Sheila Eaton and Vivian Williams said, “The tournament organizers were great to work with; it was unbelievable. These people are the nicest and kindest people out there, and so clean, we have not picked up a stitch of garbage all weekend. Such a great group of people out here playing ball and all weekend they were picking up any garbage themselves that may have blown away. They even came to us to ask about our recycle bins."
"It was a great positive weekend, we enjoyed it. It was very well organized and we had plenty of volunteers come out to help.  In the Beer Gardens everyone was very respectful. They were a very pleasant group to have come out to our community and want to establish an annual event that will bring so much to our community in years to come," said Eaton and Williams.
"They play ball a little different than we do as their games are 58 minutes long. In just one day they are playing nine games of ball with back to back games.  It’s all about enjoying a great game of ball and being respectful," said the Rotary spokespersons.
Edwards said, “Its championship Sunday and we have about 20 games left to play. We have the coed championship, the women’s and men’s championship later on this afternoon. Everything has been running pretty smooth. Yesterday we had a little delay with the rain and had to make a few schedule changes, but we got through it and made it work. We are using eight fields and nine umpires. Our umpires are troopers out here working back to back games. I really appreciate them working with SLO-Pitch National Association (SPN) we are working hand in hand USSSA and it has been great."
"This is USSSA’s first time in Canada and we are just getting started.  We have been approached by a lot of different First Nation people about hosting some of their events, and we are real excited about that. We will definitely be back if Edson will have us," said Edwards.
"Being from the States we are trying to bring a different brand of ball up here and I cut off entries early as I’m all about quality not quantity. We brought in 38 teams this year. Next year we will keep it open now that we have a feel for Edson and 24 fields to play on. We have learned a lot on both sides, and can only get better over the years to come, creating a fun atmosphere for ball players. We can easily have 80 teams next year playing in Edson from all over. Canadian's come down to the states to play ball, and now we are spreading our wings and coming to Canada to play ball. Everyone has been so accommodating it has been wonderful," said Edwards.
In the men's event first place was Native Dynasty, second was Blue Crew, and third was Kaos. In the women's first place went to FNA, second was Ball Busters, and third place was Pitches be Crazy.
Coed Upper first place was Native Dynasty, second BOA, and third was Kaos. Coed Lower first place was Mallards, second place was CLB, and third was Northern Elite.
It was unfortunate that some locals gave Lawson flak over the tournament here in Edson —but it certainly did not represent the Edson community. The tournament was an event bringing First Nation's culture and diversity together through playing ball —and was open and welcoming to anyone playing on a team, as long as the majority of the team was Native American.
Lawson is hoping to add more traditional ceremonies in the future such as an Indigenous Pow-wow atmosphere, and showcasing Indigenous music and dances with full head dress.

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News: July 2, 2018

Resurfacing issues a challenge for Kinsmen Playground

by Cassie Kushniruk
 
New information has been relayed to the Town Council concerning the resurfacing of the pea gravel area at the Kinsmen Playground Park.
Originally, a plan was put forward to replace the gravel with a poured in place rubber surfacing. This would allow a softer impact for children to land on, as well as a more comfortable walking surface. Additionally, this would replace the gravel clogging up the bathrooms and the spray park, as well as increase the overall aesthetic of the park itself.
With $150,000 budgeted for this project, the rubber surfacing would certainly be the best and most viable option. However, it has recently been received from other municipalities that issues have arisen concerning the longevity of the rubber surfacing, forcing the surfacing to be replaced every few seasons at tremendous costs. “The poured in place rubber surface was the latest and greatest, and in some ways, it is,” said Director of Community Services Jim Desautels.  “But it can run into durability issues, and if you’re only getting three or four or five years out of the surface, it becomes really terribly expensive.” Additionally, as discussed with the Calgary Parks Department, the poured in place surface also struggles to pass the fall tests that are often associated with parks. For these combined reasons, a new idea was needed.
After consulting with contractors, as well as other towns and cities, administration has found another solution —MDF wood fibres. Although not the most desirable option, the fibres would be used as the ground impact absorbing material underneath the playground to replace the harshness of the pea gravel, which is still the primary concern. This idea is not completely new to Edson, however, as the same material is being used in the Hillendale Phase II Park.
“I am glad administration found this out before we proceeded,” said Councillor Baier. “Is there any anticipation that they [wood fibres] will get caught up in the drains? Will they be easier to remove than the pea gravel?”
“One thing that parks find is that kids are less likely to transport the wood fibres. They’re just not that fun to play with. We’re hopeful that less of that material will make its way out of the park’s surface,” Desautels replied. “As well as they do float rather than sink, which is a much different dynamic for the draining system. We certainly feel like it would be an improvement over what we are dealing with.”
Desautels added, “Potentially will there be something that comes in the future that is better or addresses some of the concerns? Absolutely, that is always possible.”