(Black Press files)

Education

UPDATE: Over-budget bids cause delay of five Surrey school projects

Two projects have gone back out to tender, three awaiting ‘revised budget approval’ from Ministry of Education

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story said four projects had been delayed, but the district revealed on Nov. 22 that it is actually five.

The construction of five school projects in Surrey have been delayed after the bids to build them came in too high.

“We went to tender, and the lowest tender was still higher than what the project agreement (with the ministry) called for, in the budget for the school,” said Doug Strachan, spokesperson for the Surrey School District.

“It’s a reflection in the change in market conditions,” he added. “It does delay the process but as far as the actual occupancy of the schools, if they pushed it out by two or three months, the school could still be opening in time for the following school year. However, it is possible the occupancy date for some projects could be delayed to the following year.”

Four of the projects are in South Surrey: An Edgewood Drive area elementary (at 16666 23rd Ave., approved by the province Dec. 12, 2017), a 300-seat addition to Pacific Heights Elementary (at 17148 26th Ave., also approved on Dec. 12, 2017), a new Grandview Heights Secondary (at 16987 25th Ave., approved on Oct. 10, 2016), and a new Douglas area elementary school (17335 2nd Ave., approved on April 30, 2018).

The fifth project, a new school named Maddaugh Road Elementary to be located in Cloverdale at 19405 76th Ave., was approved on Oct. 7, 2016.

None of the projects currently have an anticipated completion date set on the district’s website.

Strachan said the Pacific Heights addition and the construction of Maddaugh Road Elementary have gone back out to tender, and are set to close next month. But the Edgewood Drive/Douglas area elementaries and Grandview Heights Secondary school construction are still “awaiting ministry approval on revised budgets,” noted Strachan.

Strachan said on Nov. 21 (after this story was published online) that the provincial government has now indicated it will “fund all the adjusted budgets for those projects.”

See also: Surrey school district surpasses projected enrolment

Surrey Board of Education Chair Laurie Larsen said “with the cost of construction going up so fast, by the time the tender went out and it came back so far above budget, we couldn’t approve it. We had to go back to the ministry.”

While cost over-runs are built into budgets, she said it was “way too much” in these cases.

Speaking about the Grandview high school specifically, Larsen said the district “planned to work with the city, and do the school with the Grandview Heights pool, and do a collaboration there, but in the end it fell through.”

“Trying to get a parcel of land together, sometimes it just seems like it’s going to be a lot easier than it does,” she noted.

Looking to the future, Larsen said “the right people are at the table” at the Capital Project Office now, a board made up of district staff, Partnerships B.C. and the Ministry of Education. It was set up by the provincial government in January, 2017 to “identify new schools or school expansions as quickly as possible so the proposals can be brought forward for provincial approval.”

Larsen said “the people that make the decisions are sitting at the table, and don’t have to get approval from anyone else.”

She noted that recently “the ministry has been more active about sitting on the meetings at the project office.”

“It’s now working the way it should, so that should help speed the timelines up,” she added.

Larsen also said she was part of a “very positive” meeting with Minister of Education Rob Fleming last Friday, “mostly talking about portables and the plan to eliminate them.”

Prior to being re-elected on Oct. 20, Surrey trustees approved a plan to cut portables in half in five years. There are currently about 325 portables being used in the district.

See also: Surrey school district’s portable count rises to 333: Allen

See more: Surrey school district looking at $8.5M bill for portables this year

Cindy Dalglish, who ran unsuccessfully for school trustee in the Oct. 20 election, said it’s unacceptable that projects are on hold because of the “inefficiencies” between the approval and construction process.

“This is entirely frustrating,” Dalglish said. “Why are projects going to tender not in range of market costs?”

Dalglish said another delayed project is an addition to Sullivan Elementary, approved by the ministry on March 18, 2017, which is still in the design phase. A call for contractors has yet to go out, according to the district.

“Question is, why?” asked Dalglish. “Sullivan was announced when (an addition to) Woodward Hill Elementary was announced, and Woodward Hill is completed. And they shouldn’t be adding to that school. They need a new one.”

“It’s full of problems.”

According to the district, the 200-student addition at Woodward Hill Elementary and a seismic upgrade at Bear Creek Elementary were “substantially complete” when students returned this fall.

This school year, the district opened the new Salish Secondary in Cloverdale, which has capacity for 1,500 students.

Another seven projects have been approved by the province, and sit at various stages of completion, according to the district’s website, which tracks construction projects.

A 200-seat addition at Panorama Park Elementary is being built and is expected to open next September. None of the other six ministry-approved projects are yet being built, nor has a contractor been awarded, as they are in the design phase.

They are a 200-seat addition to Sullivan Elementary, a seismic upgrade to Mary Jane Shannon Elementary, a new Regent Road Elementary, a 100-student addition to Coyote Creek Elementary, a 150-student addition to Frost Road Elementary, and a 700-student addition to Sullivan Heights Secondary.

In all, the B.C. government says it has approved $166.7 million in funding for all the new projects.

In a press release on Nov. 21 the Ministry of Education said the “growing investment will get Surrey students out of portables” and into classrooms over the next three years “thanks to joint efforts by the B.C. government and the Surrey School District to accelerate school construction.”

“Surrey families have been watching their community grow for years, but a lack of investment led to overcrowding in schools, forcing students into portables for far too long,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education, in the release. “Students in Surrey deserve a better learning environment and our government is working with the Surrey School District to get kids out of portables and into classrooms as quickly as possible.”

Meantime, the district has approximately $977 million of projects on its five-year capital plan, or “wish list,” as it’s often referred to. It includes not only construction projects, but also expenses such as buses, playground equipment and carbon-neutral initiatives.

to read the five-year capital plan.

Surrey’s school district has also completed a 10-year capital plan, outlining site acquisition it anticipates it will need due to growth over the next decade, which was endorsed by city council on Monday (Nov. 19). It states the city will need seven more schools in the next 10 years.

A corporate report to Surrey council notes that 37,996 residential development units are expected to be built in Surrey and White Rock over the next 10 years. That number rises to 44,113, when including suites.

The district anticipates the growth will result in an additional 11,078 school-aged children enrolling over that time period. Currently, the district has an estimated 72,526 students.

That’s why seven new school sites and one school expansion are needed, the district states in its capital plan. It means roughly 64.7 acres of property would need to be acquired.

The new and expanded school sites, which would be purchased in the next 10 years, would cost an estimated $179.8 million, based on current land prices.

The capital plan outlines the district’s wish list: A new south Newton elementary school (land cost estimated at $25.1 million), a new Redwood Heights elementary ($23.6 million), a new Dart’s Hill/Grandview Heights area elementary ($25 million), a new south-east Newton elementary ($44.1 million), a new east Bothwell elementary ($23.1 million), a new Fleetwood Enclave area elementary ($14 million), and a Port Kells elementary ($14 million). An expansion to Clayton Elementary is also in the plan, with an estimated land cost of $10 million.

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