Alex Browne photo Premier John Horgan with minister Rob Fleming.

We, as a province, have not kept pace with Surrey growth: premier

New elementary schools for South Surrey, expanded elementaries in Fleetwood among plans revealed by Horgan and education minister in announcement at Sunnyside Elementary

A close to $64-million commitment from the provincial government will provide funding for a new elementary school in South Surrey, as well as land for a second school and money to expand two elementary schools in Fleetwood.

The announcement was made Monday by Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming at a news conference at South Surrey’s Sunnyside Elementary. The event brought out Surrey MLAs, Mayor Linda Hepner and councillors and school board members en masse.

All cheered the new funding, which Fleming said “goes a long way to addressing a backlog that parents and kids have had to live with too long.”

Horgan noted overcrowding challenges experienced by Surrey, which has the highest student enrolment in B.C. at 70,736 in kindergarten to Grade 12, as of September of last year, the result of a burgeoning population.

“We, as a province, have not kept pace with that growth,” Horgan said.

The money will go toward building a new elementary school beside Dufferin Park in the Douglas area of South Surrey, expanding Frost Road Elementary and Coyote Creek Elementary in the Fleetwood area to reduce the number of portables currently in use, and buying land for a future elementary school in Grandview Heights.

Largest of the three projects is the two-storey elementary school beside Dufferin Park. Budgeted at $24.3 million, it will accommodate 605 students, provide a Neighborhood Learning Centre and two child-care rooms, media and technology spaces and outdoor washrooms, as well as relieve enrolment pressure at Hall’s Prairie, Pacific Heights and South Meridian elementaries.

Construction is scheduled to begin early next year, with completion expected by December 2020 – three months after the anticipated opening of a previously announced new secondary school in Grandview Heights.

A total of $28.9 million out of the funds announced is earmarked for buying land for a future elementary school at the southeast corner of 20 Avenue and 165 Street.

Including Monday’s announcement, the province will have announced $107 million in Surrey school since September, including a new $24 million, 655-seat elementary school in Grandview Heights, and a $9 million, 300-seat expansion to Pacific Heights Elementary.

The three projects announced Monday will add 855 new K-12 spaces in Surrey.

“It is just the beginning,” Horgan acknowledged. “We have a lot more work to do… but I believe we’ll be able to achieve our goals if we all work together.”

In response to reporters’ questions, Horgan said that while the new funding may only mean keeping pace with current demand, a start has to be made.

“We have to get ahead of it,” Horgan said. “This is what we can do today. We need more tomorrow – and that starts tomorrow. We’re way behind in meeting growth. The last school opening in Surrey was in 2014 and the next one is this fall, and that’s too long between openings…we’re behind the 8-ball in Surrey and we’ve known that for a long time.”

He added that the prevous BC Liberal government was also aware of the problems Surrey was experiencing and the need for more investment in schools.

“We (the NDP) made a commitment two years before the election,” he said.

“Everything I’ve done has been since July,” he said, noting that he takes responsibility for action taken since he formed his government. “This is not something that occurred nine months ago.”

Horgan said that the province has established valuable relationships with the Surrey school board, city council and the Surrey parents advisory council in making steps to address the school situation, as well as setting up a project office in Surrey through which it can track both city growth and enrolment figures.

He noted his opinion that the number of development permits issued within a city is not simply a municipal matter.

“It’s the province’s responsibility to make sure that traffic infrastructure, schools infrastructure and hospital infrastructure is in place,” he said.

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