EDMONTON – The coming Alberta budget will include funding for 10 new schools.
Sources have told The Canadian Press that Thursday’s budget will also have money for nine replacement schools and seven modernizations.
The projects are expected to create 6,800 brand new spaces and 6,000 replacement spaces in 15 municipalities.
Those locations include Edmonton, Calgary, Airdrie, Bonnyville, Banff, Drayton Valley, and Grande Prairie.
Education Minister David Eggen declined to confirm the information, but says the government is working to keep up with rising enrolments despite the downturn in the economy.
He noted that last year, Alberta opened 61 new or modernized schools to create 23,000 new student spaces across the province.
The province expects to finish 31 more projects by June to add 11,000 new spaces and another 7,000 modernized ones.
Eggen said young families are staying in the province and putting down roots, particularly in suburban areas around Edmonton and Calgary.
“Those people are buying houses and having kids, so it’s good for the long-term economy having a young population,” said Eggen in an interview Tuesday.
“We’re the youngest in the country, age-wise.”
He said the previous Progressive Conservative government fell far behind in building schools, but said a new system is now in place to get the projects off the ground, with quality control measures and incentives for builders who meet targets.
There are currently 139 school projects in various stages of planning and construction.
The budget comes as Alberta’s economy slowly begins to rebound from a drop in oil prices that drained billions of dollars from the government’s bottom line.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said the budget will continue to focus on spending for front-line services, but will also show how Alberta is working to reduce costs and lower the deficit.
Ceci said while the economy shows signs of rebounding, Albertans still need help, and he said that makes a deficit budget inevitable.
“Acting as a shock absorber does not mean that you throw Albertans and their ability to get services and programs out the window,” said Ceci.
“We’re going to invest in the things that are necessary, and doing that means that we need to run a deficit. That’s not going to be a surprise for anybody, I think.”
This year, Alberta is on track to run a $10.8-billion deficit. The interest on debt payments has surpassed $1 billion and government borrowing exceeds $32 billion.
Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said he’s skeptical the budget will have measures to reduce spending.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said McIver.
“I think you’re going to see them spending their brains out, borrowing their brains out and putting Albertans in a bigger hole than they’ve ever been in before.”
Ceci made his comments at a traditional pre-budget photo-op where the finance minister presents new shoes to wear on budget day.
This year, Ceci instead presented a new pair of soccer cleats to a youngster to symbolize Alberta’s commitment to families.