By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber is investigating the possibility of partnering with the new Taber Christian High School for the construction of a shared multisports facility and field house for the community.
Rene Angermeier, a representative from Taber Christian School (TCS), presented to the Taber Recreation Board on June 4 to discuss options for the plan to build a new school and gym. The rec board supported the initiative and directed the idea be presented to town council.
An indoor sports facility was identified as the top desired indoor space according to the Recreation Master Plan completed in January 2020.
In April 2014, conversations began regarding a potential high school, but at that time enrollment didn’t indicate sustainability. Since that time, the school has experienced a 46 per cent increase in enrollment over the past four years. In October 2018 a High School Committee was struck, and a society town hall was held in November 2018 where strong support was expressed.
“There’s been a need for a high school program, we’ve been talking about it for quite a few years, and this is the year we’re moving ahead with it,” said Angermeier at council’s June 22 meeting. “Even though the world’s been a weird place the last three months, we’re still moving ahead with it and opening a high school September of this year. The long range plan — hopefully sooner than later — is to build a brand new building. The first year or two we’ll be renting at the Christian Reformed Church, they’ve just done an addition with a small gym and a couple classrooms. We’re starting with a Grade 10 class this year.”
Since 2018, Taber Christian High School agreement was completed with Horizon School Division, and background work to prepare for the building project. The school will be opening in September 2020 in a temporary location at the Taber Christian Reformed Church.
“I sat on the recreation board for three years, one of the things that kept coming up over and over was indoor soccer field,” said Angermeier. “So what we want to talk about is just the idea that if we are building a new school, let’s talk about building that as part of this.”
The location being targeted for the new school is a tentatively-earmarked 10-acre school site on vacant land directly south of the Ken McDonald Memorial Sports Complex, adjacent to 50th Street north of 64th Avenue. The town plans to develop the property to the west into future residential subdivisions.
“The plan is to build just south of Ken Mac, we’re looking at a piece of land there,” said Angermeier. “Our society board, who owns and operates our school building — just so everyone’s aware, we are an alternative program, so our parent society owns our property and building, and runs it.”
The proposed new building would be a full-size school including a gym, eight classrooms, kitchen, science lab, library, shop and multi-purpose areas. Angermeier’s presentation suggested the building could be constructed in phases depending on capital investment and enrollment numbers.
Coun. Garth Bekkering asked if Taber Christian School has a timeline in place for construction of the new school facility.
“We like to dream big. We were hoping that by this September we could break ground, but that was back a year and half ago. We pretty much stopped our fundraising when COVID-19 hit us as a town and world,” said TCS principal Klaas Hoekstra. “We’re not sure what September looks like, but we’re pretty sure we’re not breaking ground. We’re flexible — we’re going to be the general contractor ourselves, so we have lots of flexibility as to when we’re actually breaking ground.”
Coun. Jack Brewin suggested TCS planners investigate a facility in Strathmore that could offer some ideas for the concept in Taber.
“I’d just like to say I think it’s a fantastic idea, and hopefully it’s something we can work on together. We did tour a facility in Strathmore attached to the school, dry sports complex. So it’s interesting, but it would definitely be a fine location for it.”
Angermeier told council project planners are aware of the Strathmore facility and plan to investigate it in future.
“Would you consider a stand alone, or would you attach it to the school?” asked Brewin.
“The idea would be that the school building — it would be part of the building, but separate at the same time,” replied Angermeier. “People using it after hours wouldn’t have access to the school building, but our students could use it during the day without having to go outside.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop highlighted the need for such a facility in Taber which has become more acute in recent years.
“To me, it’s certainly worth exploring as a possibility. I’m sure our administration would have a lot of input with our recreation department. Absolutely there’s always a need for more recreation, and that’s something we’re definitely missing with a multi-use facility of some sort. This is another possible option.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas wanted to see the project returned to the rec board level for further discussion and to incorporate the views of M.D. of Taber councillors.
“I also think this is a great idea. We’ve had a multi-use facility on our side-table for a number of years. I think the best way to handle this would be through the rec board, because it’s got representation there from the M.D. as well. This is definitely a project that should have M.D., town, and the school — should be a three-way partnership, and I think that would probably be the best way to handle it. Myself, I would certainly support this on a go-forward basis. This is tremendous, and this may be the partnership that we were waiting for before we proceed down this road. My hat goes off to you guys to keep at it.”
Coun. Louie Tams wanted to see a more active approach from town administration rather than further discussion at the rec board.
“It could go back to the rec board, but I think our rec director and administration needs to have conversations with these gentlemen so we get a greater vision of what they’re planning. We all kind of know what we’re thinking and what we want. You don’t have a definite date for breaking ground, we don’t have a definite plan for what we’re looking for to build, and also with our partner the M.D., and I think we need to have some conversations with our director of recreation and our administration team, so that we have a better picture of what we’re talking about. Right now — for lack of a better word — it’s a dream. And it’s a good dream. But it’s still a dream, and I think we need to have our rec department and administration have some conversations so we have some clarity on what we’re trying to do.”
Hoekstra estimated the new school’s construction might cost anywhere between $3.5 – $4.5 million, with a full gymnasium costing between $1 – $1.2 million.
Bekkering sounded a warning about the town’s current finances and the possibility of having to make hard decisions in future.
“This is a very worthwhile discussion, and I think it bears further discussion, and also some decisions to be made in future. However, as you gentlemen just mentioned, you’re under budgetary constraints for fundraising because of COVID-19. Believe me, so are we. The town is in pretty tough shape budget-wise, financially, and we cannot rely forever on other forms of government, orders of government, to bail us out. So therefore we have to make some hard decisions also. At the same time, let’s make those hard decisions together.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to accept the presentation as information and directed administration to have further conversations with TCS regarding a high school and field house concept building.