Province commits $45.6M to Surrey schools; 1,800 new spaces for district

SURREY — Clayton is getting a brand new high school and Rosemary Heights, Adams Road and Morgan elementary schools are getting additions.

The province announced its support for the Clayton North area high school in 2013 and Education Minister Peter Fassbender announced Thursday the province is committing $45.6 million toward the projects, with the school district contributing $19 million.

All in all, the $64.6 million projects will mean more than 1,800 spaces for Surrey students.

“Early this year, our board wrote to the minister offering to contribute funding in order to speed-up the process, and address over-capacity issues at Adams Road and the South Surrey elementary schools, so we are thrilled to be able to now move ahead,” Surrey Board of Education chair Shawn Wilson said in a release.

He added, “The announcement today takes care of the top priority projects in our capital plan and I know the students, staff and parents at all schools involved, including Lord Tweedsmuir and Clayton Heights Secondary schools will be happy as well.”

The Clayton secondary school will have capacity for 1,500 students, alleviating pressure at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in particular. Construction is set to begin in the spring of 2015, with completed expected in early 2017.

When it comes to the elementary school additions, a total of 16 classrooms are planned, to house 370 students. Each of the three schools are currently over capacity, with enrollment expected to increase.

Construction is slated to begin this fall with hopes of being completed by the fall of 2015. 

“Today we are celebrating our partnership and cooperation with the Surrey school district – clearly, by working together we are getting results,” said Fassbender in a release. “Most of our capital projects in school districts are focused on seismic upgrades for student safety. But at the same time, we are also creating more spaces for students in school districts where student enrollment is expected to grow in the future. These four projects are a great example of that commitment.”

Surrey Board of Education vice-chair Laurie Larsen said the commitment is really the “tip of the iceberg, especially for what’s needed in Clayton," noting that it’s only about half of what is truly required. “But we’re very appreciative that it did finally come through."

Though happy about the commitment, Larsen was disappointed the announcement came while the teachers dispute is going on and a lot of the staff can’t celebrate it.

According to Larsen, the South Surrey elementary schools are "overflowing," which is not a unique thing in the district.

“There’s so many areas that are just busting at the seams. We figure it cost us $4 million for portables last year. And those are just classrooms, those aren’t science labs or gyms or anything that’s needed to go with schools,” she said.

“Usually what happens is once a school is built and the children move in, then those existing portables are moved to sites that need more class space. It’s sort of like a domino effect. We get one school built, and sometimes as it’s being built, they recognize that it’s not even big enough then, but it’s as big as the government will allow us to build.”

Larsen noted growth in the Cloverdale area has been massive.

“If you drive down Fraser Highway, you just see new developments, new townhouses, there’s new signs up almost every time I drive by there. It’s phenomenal. We can’t even ask for a school until the current school is at 110 capacity,” she said.

“We have to wait until the children are actually there at the door, which is hard for Surrey because we can see those buildings going up. And it takes almost four years from when you put in the application and go through the whole system in Surrey and go through your design, until that school can be open.”

Larsen added that while the district has had provincial approval for the projects for some time, they can’t move ahead until the cheque is in their hand.

“We never count our chickens before they hatch…. So that’s what has happened today," she said. "We’ve been promised that for such a long time and we’ve been waiting.”

areid@thenownewspaper.com

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