The province’s education minister says Surrey can expect “a number” of school infrastructure projects to be announced in the new year.
Rob Fleming told Peace Arch News this month that the government is investigating a bundling approach to building new schools and seismic upgrade projects in the Surrey region, which is something “that has not been done before.”
“We think it will help do things more quickly. It’s a competitive market right now to generate the interest,” Fleming said. “A $10-million project might not get the kind of bids you’d want, but if it’s bundled together with one or two other projects…”
He said the province fully funded a year-round project office in Surrey, which is devoted solely to the procurement and tendering of new school projects.
The Surrey School District has a five-year, $517 million capital plan to expand or build 22 new schools in the region.
Before the May 9 provincial election, the then-governing BC Liberals pledged $217 million to build new schools in Surrey, but new schools required up to 50 per cent local funding.
Fleming said his NDP government determined that the 50 per cent cost sharing initiative was “just unrealistic and the source of gridlock in getting portables reduced and new schools built.”
“The last government and that ($217 million) announcement really stumbled on their insistence that Surrey pay 50 per cent of the cost of those schools.”
“It was basically hitting a red light and not proceeding.”
Fleming said the province worked with the Surrey School District to “identify barriers” that are preventing funding for new schools, which he said included everything from acquiring land to working with city government to get permits and approvals more quickly through city hall.
“There’s a number of items on the table, including getting funding from the ministry more quickly, that are going to speed up the construction of schools in Surrey,” he said.
Fleming said the government is sticking to the objective of removing portables from the Surrey School District within the next four years.
“I think the major correction that our government is undertaking from the previous government is not just announcing, but to break ground and get projects underway and completed more quickly.”
He said young parents “have reason” to be optimistic, and that he appreciates their concerns.
“The previous government was happy to take all of the taxes and economic growth benefits from a fast growing dynamic economic region like Surrey, but failed to adequately invest in critical infrastructure – like schools – which are a key part of building communities.”
On Dec. 7, the province announced a $9-million expansion project to Pacific Heights Elementary and a new $24 million, 655-seat Grandview Heights elementary school, which is expected to open in time for the 2020-2021 school year.
Fleming was in Surrey Dec. 15 to announce that two Surrey elementary schools will receive $10.4 million between them in seismic upgrades.
Mary Jane Shannon elementary in Guildford, where the announcement was made, will receive $7.33 million to have its two-storey classroom block and its gymnasium upgraded, with construction to begin in the fall of 2018.
And Bear Creek elementary in Newton will receive $3.11 million for seismic upgrades to the school’s gymnasium and west block of classrooms. Construction is set to begin in July 2018, with classrooms expected to be completed by September that year and the gym a month later.