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Alberta nixes public-private partnerships on schools

Dean Irvine the principal at Banff Elementary School, meets with some Grade four students in the library on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

The Alberta government is abandoning plans to build 19 schools across the province using a public-private partnership.

Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale says the province can build the schools for at least $14-million cheaper than with a P3 partnership. The cost using traditional financing is pegged at $556.6-million.

The target date to deliver the 19 schools is 2017, but the government says it will work with school boards to build them sooner if possible. The schools are part of a total 120 school projects – 50 new schools and 70 modernizations – that the Alberta government announced in 2013-14.

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The government is responsible for 101 of those projects; the remainder are to be managed by school boards.

"In the past they've been successful and saved us money, but we've always said if they don't show value we don't do it," Mr. Drysdale said Wednesday of the P3 model.

NDP education critic Deron Bilous noted that his party has been telling the government for years that P3 financing is nothing more than an expensive way to hide debt.

"Instead of listening to Albertans and to the NDP, this government's stubbornness will mean an extra year of children in overcrowded classes and taking long bus rides," Mr. Bilous said in a release.

He also said the timing of the schools is another broken election promise. Mr. Bilous pointed out that Premier Dave Hancock said as recently as last month that the 50 schools would be built by 2016. "Today's announcement makes it clear that he was not correct."

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