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Calgary’s newest high school is already full. Is the city running out of space for students?

North Trail High School welcomed its first students in September, but families expecting to enrol for its second year may be disappointed. 

On Monday, the school in Calgary’s northeast neighbourhood of Coventry Hills posted a bulletin to its website informing prospective students and guardians that the school no longer has space for them.

In fact, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) projects enrolment at the school to be more than 200 students above its capacity of 1,800 in the coming academic year.

The update came just three days after an event celebrating the opening of the school.

Laura Hack, chair for the CBE’s board of trustees, said they expected North Trail High School to fill up quickly. 

“The school’s populations have been asking for this school for about 20 years since the communities were first being built,” she explained at the Friday event. 

“So that’s why we have already built-out communities and [we’re] able to fully utilize the building right off the get-go.”

A portrait of a woman standing in a school gymnasium.
Chair of the CBE Board of Trustees, Laura Hack, speaking to CBC News at last week’s official celebration for North Trail High School. (Mike Symington/CBC)

But there was at least one factor that came as a surprise for the school district. 

In a statement, the CBE said “higher than anticipated registrations from middle-school aged students have resulted in new projections that show there will be continued growth in North Trail High School’s catchment area in future years. 

“Due to this, a cap on enrolment and overflow for new students must be implemented.” 

Where to now? 

Instead of attending North Trail High School, new registrations will be overflowed to Crescent Heights High School, more than 12 kilometres south, or about 22 minutes away by car. 

Students will also be added to a callback list, in case a seat becomes available at North Trail High School. 

It may not be the most optimal option in terms of distance, but Crescent Heights High School has what few other Calgary schools do — space.

“It is one of the two high schools in the system with open enrolment status, which means it has a projected utilization of 85 per cent or lower and is projected to have the space to continue to accommodate students in future years,” the CBE said in its statement. 

North Trail High School’s projected utilization rate for this year is 126.9 per cent, according to the school district’s online dashboard

Throughout the district, the CBE said it identified a “notable increase” in grades 10 to 12 between September 2022 and 2023. 

From 2019 to 2023, the number of students in those grades grew from 30,634 to 34,591, according to figures in the CBE’s capital plan. 

Currently, the CBE puts the overall utilization rate for students in grades 10 to 12 at 103 per cent. 

About 7,000 more high school students across Calgary are expected to enrol by 2027. 

Citywide space crunch 

The CBE isn’t alone in its struggle for learning spaces in grades 10 to 12. 

The Calgary Catholic School District also has a portion of its high schools in overflow, says Shannon Cook, chair of the CCSD’s board of trustees. 

“We have a number of high schools that are running in the 110, 115 per cent or so, or more,” said Cook. 

“So we are utilizing our spaces really well at this point, but you can only maintain that for so long.” 

A woman in a green blazer flips through a leaflet at a wooden desk.
Shannon Cook, who serves as chair of the board of trustees for the Calgary Catholic School District, says some of its high schools are also in overflow. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Cook said the board of trustees tries to make the most of the funding it receives. 

But when capacity is an issue for multiple grades, they sometimes prioritize the most efficient option. 

Cook said high schools, which often include specialized classrooms for learning subjects like automotive skills, require more land, more time and more money. 

“I can do 10 schools of 500 kids or I can do seven schools and one high school, and there’s no question there’s an optics to that, right, that have to be considered,” said Cook. 

“But all of these kids that are coming through in our elementary schools, they all end up converging into these high schools, and so, you know, if they’re stuffed now — they’re not going to get better.”  

Creating future capacity 

Through Budget 2024, the provincial government is funding the construction of one new high school in Calgary: a Catholic facility in the southeast community of Rangeview. 

“In order to take pressure off of All Saints [High School], which is, I think around 119 per cent or somewhere close to that … we need Rangeview to take that pressure off and to build for the future, for all those houses that are going up around in there,” said Cook. 

The CBE is receiving design funding for a high school in Cornerstone, which it notes has been listed in four previous capital plans. Approval for the school was granted in March 2023. 

Each year, the CBE and CCSD submit their capital plans to the province. These plans include the number of schools each district wants to build. The plans are then funded through the provincial budget. 

In its most recent capital plan, the Calgary Catholic board is asking for four new high schools over the next three years. 

The CBE is asking for two, along with four major modernization projects that would create space for grades 10 to 12 at existing schools. 

CBC News asked if Alberta Education was considering any additional measures outside of announcements made in Budget 2024 to get ahead of high school capacity issues.

However, CBC did not receive a specific answer to that portion of the request. 

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