Surrey parents gain traction in school fight

The fight for Surrey schools continues this week. First, at Surrey city hall Monday night, then in Victoria on Wednesday.

Cindy Dalglish with the South Newton Community group says the area's already overcrowded schools can't handle any more development. She spoke at Surrey council Monday night to oppose a townhome development.

SURREY — The fight for Surrey schools continued this week when Cindy Dalglish arrived at city hall Monday with signs opposing South Newton development.

But when she got there, she was told to ditch the signs or leave.

“They told us in a public building we’re not allowed to bring our signs because they’re considered a form of protest…. they said if we continued to bring them in they’d have us removed,” said Dalglish.

The Surrey mother obliged, instead using her words to get her message across in council chambers.

And strong words they were.

“I will tell you that I hold you each personally and professionally accountable for the capacity issues in our schools for every single child that comes from a development that was amended or not part of the Neighbourhood Concept Plan,” Dalglish told Mayor Linda Hepner and the rest of the Surrey First councillors. “You have a responsibility to the constituents of this city not the developers.”

Dalglish, with the South Newton Community Group, was one of nine speakers opposing a 48-townhouse Valtellina Enterprises Ltd. development at 6022 142nd St. The developer requests the city rezone the site from one-acre residential to multiple residential 30, and approve a development variance permit to reduce setbacks.

There were also 25 letters sent to city hall expressing opposition.

It was the latest in the neighbourhood’s fight for schools, which are bursting at the seams with no end in sight. They want the city to stop building in their area until schools can catch up to the demand. There’s no room for their kids, let alone new ones from forthcoming developments, they argue.

Last week the Panorama Neighbourhood Association and South Newton Community group joined forces to voice their opposition to a proposed 287-unit development on a 2.5-acre lot at the southeast corner of 152nd Avenue and Panorama Drive. More than 100 people attended an open house for the project. The lineup was out the door.

SEE MORE: School capacity concerns spark opposition to Panorama development

This, after Surrey school trustee Laurae McNally put forward a motion to ask city council to put a temporary hold on developments for the same reason. It was supported by the whole school board.

SEE MORE: Surrey school trustee’s call to curb growth ‘hit a chord’

“Why do you continue to shrug off the role you have each played on signing off on development that does not have the corresponding infrastructure in place for roadways, parking and most importantly, schools?” Dalglish asked Surrey council.

“Where will the kids go to school? I’ve heard from you that schools are the province’s responsibility. I ask what your responsibility is when you develop beyond the plan that you created and provided to the province.”

Dalglish told Surrey council she will be back to oppose every development that is outside the Neighbourhood Concept Plan for the South Newton neighbourhood.

“Until this infrastructures is in place, how can you safely say to people that want to live here, “Sure come on in, but we have no schools for you?” How do you sleep with that? I can’t sleep with that. That’s why I keep fighting,” she said.

Another parent, Erin Jones, said Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary across the street from the proposed development is projected to have 800 new students this coming fall and will have five portables added over the summer for a total of nine.

New students who live as close as across the street from the school are being turned away, she revealed, and forced to register at North Ridge Elementary which is a 10 to 15 minute walk across King George Boulevard.

“Woodward Hill is slated for an expansion but is number seven on the list of priorities for the Surrey school district,” said Jones. “By that time it will be too late. This is a school where children have access to the playground only on specific days as well as problems accessing gym and library facilities, all due to overcrowding and rapid development beyond the neighbourhood concept plan.”

The city must do better for the sake of children, she stressed.

“You have a responsibility to do what is best for this community which is why this proposal cannot go through. This is not an attack on development, we feel that our community is under attack and we will fight it.”

After hearing from parents, Surrey city council voted to defer their decision on the 48-townhome application until after a meeting with the Surrey school board set for May 26.

Hepner said the elected school board plays a “very significant role in the development of our concept plans” and then plans accordingly. “The growth is not a surprise,” she added.

The mayor acknowledged the significant challenges that the city faces due to growth but said “attacking them by way of the building industry” is not the answer.

She assured those in attendance that the city is in talks with the province and that the city is “actively pursuing this.”

PARENTS PUSH THE PROVINCE

But parents aren’t just applying pressure on the city, they’re also pushing the province, which ultimately hands out dollars for new schools and additions.

Dalglish and 12 others were heading to Victoria on Wednesday, May 18 to attend question period, speak with politicians and have a meeting with Minister of Education Mike Bernier.

Bernier has said funding for the district is imminent, but Dalglish hopes it comes immediately and without any “red tape” attached.

“We won’t know that he’s hearing us until we hear how much he’s going to give and when. If he announces in six months it’s going to be six months too late,” noted Dalglish.

She’d like to see in the neighbourhood of $200 to $300 million.

“I might be dreaming but that’s what’s needed,” she remarked.

While funding for new schools and additions are top of mind, Dalglish also wants the province to pay the $4 million the Surrey school district spends on portables each year, which currently comes out of the board’s operating fund and could instead be used to hire 50 teachers.

Once that’s taken care of, Dalglish wants to see the province’s funding formulas for new schools changed. Currently, schools have to be overcapacity before the district can apply for funding and even then it’s years before a new school comes to fruition.

Dalglish is hopeful politicians will answer their calls.

“It’s sad we have to go to these lengths to get this attention for the area but I’m glad our efforts are, well not paying off, but at least we’re begin heard.”

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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