The 700-seat addition at Sullivan Heights Secondary in Newton has been under construction for several months. This was where construction was at on May 7, 2020. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

The 700-seat addition at Sullivan Heights Secondary in Newton has been under construction for several months. This was where construction was at on May 7, 2020. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

‘Building schools is the answer’ to Surrey’s overcrowding problem

District looking at building 13 schools over the next decade

In the next 10 years, the Surrey school district is hoping to have 13 new schools built.

At least that was part of their $1.38-billion capital plan request to the provincial NDP government at the Sept. 16 Surrey Board of Education meeting.

Then on Sept. 21, BC NDP Leader John Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24.

“We’re sort of hoping that whoever is in power will honour what’s been put forward,” said Laurie Larsen, Surrey Board of Education chairperson. “We always have done this 10-year, five-year capital plan in the hopes that most of the projects will be approved or approved in some scale.”

READ ALSO: Surrey school district proposing 13 new schools in the next decade, Sept. 19, 2020

Some of those projects include a new high school near 152nd Street and 66th Avenue to ease crowding issues at Fleetwood Park, Frank Hurt and Sullivan Heights, which was the most overcrowded school in the district in the 2018/2019 school year at 153.4 per cent capacity.

At the Sept. 16 board meeting, Kelly Isford-Saxon, manager of demographics and facilities planning with Surrey Schools, presented the district’s long-range facility plan and five-year capital plan.

“We want to significantly reduce the number of portables in our district. We need to acquire new sites in our new neighbourhoods,” she said.

Enrolment at the elementary level, Isford-Saxon said, could go as high as 52,676 students by 2029 and for secondary, as high as 35,383 students. That would be a little more than 88,000 students in the Surrey school district within the next decade.

As of Oct. 1, 2020, 72,549 students were enrolled in kindergarten to Grade 12 at the district, with 43,515 in elementary and 29,034 in secondary.

Isford-Saxon said that around 2024, student spaces and enrolment in elementary schools “almost” align, but growth continues at a higher rate than new student spaces afterward.

As for secondary, she said the need for spaces is “quite high,” adding that not only will there need to be additions at existing schools, “but we’re also suggesting a need for a new high school, if not two.”

Garry Thind, a Surrey school board trustee on leave while he runs as the BC Liberal candidate for Surrey-Fleetwood, said if elected, the BC Liberals “will make sure that Surrey receives the fair share that we need going forward, especially when it comes to capital funding.”

Thind said the BC Liberals have a “track record in the past” and have “given a lot to Surrey.”

“Although, the number dropped in the last three years of their tenure from ’14 till ’17. We didn’t get our fair share of schools.”

Thind later said he was referring to, “The NDP is advertising that the Liberal government only gave one school in the last three years of their tenure. The fact is that before the election in 2017, the Liberal government announced $100 million worth of new schools, additions and seismic upgrades and land purchases, which NDP cancelled quite of those and re-announced them again, claiming that was their announcement.

Asked if he thinks the Surrey school district got its fair share of schools in the BC Liberals’ last term, Thind said, “Absolutely. That’s right.”

READ ALSO: NDP would get Surrey students out of portables and into real classrooms, Horgan says, April 19, 2017

But Jinny Sims, who is running for re-election with the NDP in Surrey-Panorama, says the NDP has managed to “expedite” the building and approval process with the help of the project office.

That project office, which has liaisons from the City of Surrey, the Surrey school district and the Ministry of Education, was started even before the NDP was elected in 2017.

Sims said since coming into power, there have been 18 projects in Surrey in the works, but, “Of course, we still have a huge number of portables and kids sitting in portables because we have more schools to build.”

That means looking for and buying more land “because we need to build more schools and I think we’ve got to carry on building and expanding so that we can catch up.”

And Trustee Terry Allen agrees that “building schools is the answer.”

“Under normal circumstances in a non-pandemic year, we have 1,200 (new) children a year. Well, think about it: That’s two elementary schools a year.”

Allen said it’s “not possible” for the Surrey school district to ever be without portables.

“If the city was to stop development, then yes, it’s doable but they’re not going to stop development,” he said. “Why would we deny people the right to live in an area in the Lower Mainland where affordable house – a lot more affordable housing – is available more than anywhere else?”

Larsen said that in Surrey, because of the city’s growth, “there will always be portables.”

READ ALSO: ‘We will never get zero,’ Surrey school district staff says of portables, Jan. 14, 2020

Asked if she thought the district had been at all neglected in the last 10 to 15 years, Larsen said: “Certainly, and that’s as my comment as a trustee and probably not as board chair, but I do feel, certainly, it was. I think, maybe the government at the time was really not aware of the massive growth of Surrey and didn’t really understand the impact.”

BC politicsBC Votes 2020EducationSurrey

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