By Stan Ashbee
Westwind Weekly News
Taking a look back at 2018, the Village of Stirling had a momentous year with a plethora of happenings throughout the community — which included Stirling School’s close to $15 million modernization project. The modernization of the Westwind School Division K-12 school included a new gymnasium, along with mechanical, electrical, and structural upgrades.
“The school is our largest employer, but it’s also the hub of the community,” said Mayor Trevor Lewington.
According to Lewington, the school’s previous gym was repurposed into a full community theatre with all the latest tech. There are also two flexible CTS lab spaces for technologies and will serve a very light woodworking and shop-like scenario — options the school never had prior to the modernization project. “I think that’s very exciting.”
Road rehabilitation in a community is always important, Lewington noted. “We don’t have paved roads throughout the community. We certainly have more pavement than we ever had before, but for us it comes down to dust control and updating flood mitigation — so building up roads and continuing to maintain core infrastructure is really important. We got quite a bit done last year,” he explained. “So hopefully people see that.”
Municipalities are also responsible for sewer maintenance, which is never exciting, but vital for a community’s core infrastructure. “We made an investment in a major upgrade,” he said.
“The Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding we get from the province pays for infrastructure like that. That program is only guaranteed for another year.”
Stirling also offers annual events, which is always beneficial for a small rural community and 2018 was no exception. “We have some great annual favourites like our Settler Days in July and our Fall Festival. We continue to have these great events and they get bigger and better every year. But, it’s really the fact, that it’s all volunteers that make those things happen in our communities.”
Lewington said the village also has a recreation committee that oversees the community events. “We’re very fortunate.”
Another note of importance Lewington wanted to share was Stirling is considered the largest village in the province with a population of 1,269 residents, according to the most recent municipal census conducted.
“Once you get over 1,000 you could qualify for town status. We haven’t really explored that like Nobleford did recently, but it’s a pretty sizeable community and most people in the region have no idea Stirling is actually that big, in terms of the number of residents. It’s nice to reach that threshold,” said Lewington.
2018 was also the year recreational cannabis legislation was passed Canada-wide, which had municipalities working to pass local rules and regulations in response.
“The province sets a lot of the rules, but then each municipality is sort of left to figure it out. In my opinion, neither the federal government or the provincial government did a great job of setting municipalities up for success there. At the end of the day, it’s the municipality that has to figure out and enforce all the rules,” he said.
Stirling is fortunate, Lewington said, in the sense all of the community’s commercial zones are within 100 metres of the school. “Essentially, no one will be opening up a cannabis store in Stirling, any time soon. Just because of our commercial district is physically too close to the school, based on provincial rules. But, we have been working on a public consumption of cannabis bylaw. Essentially, it will prevent or preclude the public consumption of cannabis in our community,” Lewington explained. “That had unanimous approval from council.”
Lewington said 2018 was a year of infrastructure in Stirling and the community trying to figure out the future. “Exciting improvements and exciting investments happening in our community,” he added.
Moving forward in 2019, Lewington said, the village is still searching for a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). “The CAO is that key person in the community that directs administration and is the key staff member. We are in the process, right now, of recruiting a new CAO. Our previous CAO resigned after seven years, in and around November 2018. That’s a big task for council and finding a suitable replacement. We had 24 applications, which kind of blew me away. I wasn’t expecting that many.”
But, the village received a number of applications from across Canada — Lewington said. “We’ve been going through interviews and there’s some great candidates.”
A provincial announcement was also made in 2018 in regards to the Stirling Wind Project, which will be located about five kilometres north of the community, Lewington said.
“It’s pretty significant. It’s 32-ish turbines. This is a significant investment. There’s some people that don’t support wind energy or don’t support renewables, but the fact is — the investment’s been approved by the province and it’s going forward. For me, it’s about how do we make sure local businesses and local people have an opportunity to get first crack at those jobs and some of those supply opportunities,” he said.
Lewington added even if it’s construction crews for this project coming to Stirling with their vehicles for fuel or visiting the restaurant for lunch. “That has a potentially huge economic benefit to our community.”
Stirling has also been working on a municipal net-zero program too. “Raymond got done first,” he joked. “We put solar panels on our fire hall, our community centre, and because we don’t have enough buildings with appropriate roofs — we’re also building a ground-mount array.”
According to Lewington, when all that is said and done, the electrical generation from those solar arrays will offset the municipal consumption. “That’s all of our public buildings and all of our streetlights. That should have a significant improvement in our carbon footprint and sustainability and it’s a very long-term play in terms of hedging against electrical rate inflation. I wouldn’t say there’s a great ROE on that, but it is a long-term investment.”
A medical clinic has also been proposed for the community to include a doctor and dentist, Lewington added. The group behind the clinic received development approval and there have been presentations made to council about looking for different incentives and how the village might partner with the group, which is still up for discussion.
“The ownership group has been looking at also providing pharmacy and physical therapy. For us, that’s a big win. We’re served well by the Raymond Hospital and physicians, either in Raymond or of course Lethbridge. But having those services available in our community would be a big win — especially for seniors or folks that are perhaps less mobile for economic reasons or what have you,” he said.