No money for new schools in Langley

WILLOUGHBY – While schools in Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood are already bursting at the seams, the provincial government has said there is no money for building new schools this year at all.

Trustees expressed shock and disappointment and planned to continue lobbying for funds for the fast-growing area.

Normally, the Ministry of Education requires every school district in B.C. to send in a five-year plan annually to give a listing of new schools, additions and other construction that might be needed.

In July, a letter from the ministry said that won’t be necessary, due to a change in the computer software used to evaluate the plans.

For Langley, this means that it will be at least another year before its urgent need for new school construction in Willoughby can even be considered.

Some of the current and near-future issues of overcrowding were outlined by district Secretary Treasurer David Green for the board Tuesday.

Both the newly-opened Yorkson Middle School and R.E. Mountain Secondary are already over capacity.

Currently, Yorkson has 794 students and its official capacity is 750. R.E. Mountain, which will see a reduction in its student numbers this year due to Yorkson’s opening, is at 888 with a capacity of 725.

Assuming all residential construction stopped and there was absolutely no population growth or new children, there are so many elementary students already in the region that both schools would face increasing pressures over the next five years.

By 2020, Yorkson would have 1,018 students and R.E. Mountain would have 1,140.

Based on current population expectations, the situation is worse, with Yorkson hitting 1,343 students and R.E. Mountain at 1,455 by 2020. That would put Mountain at double its actual capacity.

Both schools are expected to rely heavily on portables in the near future; three portables were installed at the Yorkson site before construction had even finished.

Langley’s five-year plan calls for three new elementary schools and a new secondary school for Willoughby.

The district would also like to expand R.C. Garnett Elementary.

The expansions are needed despite the fact that three schools have opened in the past three years in the Willoughby neighbourhood.

The Ministry of Education is also asking districts to contribute 50 per cent of capital costs, Green said.

“Asking us to come up with 50 per cent of the cost is unrealistic,” said Chair Wendy Johnson.

The only way the district could finance that would be the sale of properties it has now.

“My sense is that there’s no capital money that’s been assigned to the Ministry of Education,” said Green.

“This is really disappointing,” said Trustee Megan Dykeman. She suggested the district needs to lobby for the use of modular schools, already built in Alberta, to rapidly create new school buildings.

Trustee Rod Ross called it a “crisis” and said he was shocked.

Enrolment in the R.E. Mountain catchment, which covers most of Willoughby, was up about 300 students this year, according to an early count.

Another recommendation for the area is to possibly relocate Willoughby Elementary and sell the existing property at the corner of 208th Street and 80th Avenue. The district has been receiving expressions of interest from developers, and Green’s report recommended looking into the idea.

“It’s a valuable piece of property,” he said. However, it’s not valuable enough that it would pay for the entire cost of buying new land and building a new school, Green noted.

The district is expected to start consulting with parents in the area as soon as this week about proposed changes, starting with small meetings with a few parents from each school and expanding to a public process.

The trustees voted to send in physical copies of their five-year plan as a tool to draw provincial attention, with copies heading to both MLAs from Langley, to Education Minister Peter Fassbender, and to Premier Christy Clark.