The Surrey School District will be receiving $217 million in funding to build new schools and expand existing ones.
B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier made the announcement Thursday morning at the district offices in Surrey. The money will be doled out over three years and will create up to 5,200 new spaces, Bernier said.
The planning and allocation of the funds will be made through a newly established joint executive project board office that is to partner with the Surrey School District.
Noting the Surrey Board of Education has long said it needs a made-in-Surrey solution when it comes to funding and building schools, Bernier said the new project board will have experts working in collaboration with the municipality, developers and engineers to make sure the city gets the right projects in the right places.
‘As the premier said last May, we needed a better way to manage the funding and construction process for new schools and additions, so from that comment, the result is today and we’re very proud of that,’ Bernier said. “And I know there’s going to be much more needed the way Surrey is growing.”
For Surrey School District Board Chairperson Shawn Wilson, the announcement is welcome news that is long overdue. He said he is looking forward to some overcrowding relief in the district, but said the time frame is still unclear.
The school district will determine which projects move forward first and areas where schools are needed immediately will be the priority, Wilson said.
“As far as relieving overcrowding, I think we’ll get there, but it’s not going to be an overnight thing. I’ll have a better guess next year at this time.”
Surrey Coun. Tom Gill said the city had heard loud and clear from various delegations that have made presentations at city hall over the last few years.
“Every significant public hearing has had this issue (the need for more school spaces) come up,” he said.
“I’m hopeful we can better develop expansion of certain areas with the school board. The future looks a little brighter.”
For Surrey-Whalley NDP MLA Bruce Ralston, the funding is too little, too late.
“This announcement will not end the number of portables in Surrey and the minister essentially admitted that,” he said. “Three months before an election, who believes (Premier Christy Clark) is suddenly concerned about Surrey students and Surrey parents?”
On Tuesday, Bernier met with the Surrey Schools Coalition (SCC) and heard that the city needs one new elementary school every year and one secondary school every two to three years in order to keep pace with ballooning enrolment.
The SSC – a group of parents, business people, developers and homebuilders – asked Bernier to provide immediate financial help to ease some of the current overcrowding issues and also to change the current funding formula allowing for long-term sustainable growth, not only in Surrey, but provincewide.
“You need to be over-capacity before they (ministry of education) will even look at you and we’ve been over-capacity for 20-plus years,” said Parent Advisory Council and SCC member Lisa Garner.
Currently the province requires schools to be near 95 per cent capacity before funding applications for new buildings will be considered – a formula Garner believes is out-of-date.
“The immediate ask was for $174 million… for the schools that are in the crisis of over-capacity,” said Garner. “The second ask would be for $374 million to keep us out of crisis for basically the next four-year plan.”
Thursday’s announcement of $217 million meets the group halfway.
The SSC noted that even if funding arrived immediately, with the current trend of 1,000-plus new students arriving in the district annually, any new school would be at capacity the day it opens.
The SSC also said a delay in building new schools will have a negative impact on residential growth in the city.
“Many parents are concerned that many of their (catchment) schools are closed to registration because of overcrowding and yet home building is still happening,” said Garner.
She and her colleagues believe there’s a disconnect between the city, the province and the district and that all three levels of government need to work together more closely to find common ground. She said halting development is not a solution.
Salish Secondary school is scheduled to open in 2018, Clayton North Elementary in 2019 and a new secondary school in the Grandview Heights area is scheduled for 2020.
The largest school district in the province, Surrey has a current enrolment of 71,000 students in 120 schools.