SURREY — The Surrey School Board wants Mayor Linda Hepner to address how an elementary school’s playing field is being affected by road construction plans.
At its first meeting of this school year, on Sept. 20, the Surrey Board of Education received a report from Superintendent Dr. Jordan Tinney summarizing concerns about the 105 Avenue Connector project’s impacts on Hjorth Road Elementary school.
The city’s justification for the road is to move utilities off 104th Avenue in preparation for light rail, to connect Whalley Boulevard to 150th Street and that it’s been in the city’s Official Community Plan since 1986.
The city intends to build a road that would cut through the Guildford school, and an LRT station is planned next to the school.
In his report, Tinney notes the “crucial need” and “community desire” for transit improvements but said “our priority is the impacts on schools.”
Tinney says the planned LRT station at the intersection of 104th Avenue and 148th Street, directly in front of the school, will require space along the 104th Avenue frontage of the school, and will be a “point of significant traffic, creating noise and safety issues for our students.”
Furthermore, Tinney writes that the new roadway will mean the school will be bounded on all four sides by roads.
“The increase in noise and traffic creates both practical and safety concerns for the school,” he states.
Tinney wants the city to create short-term options for a replacement field prior to any construction, which would have the save level of access and supervision currently in place at the school.
He also wants the city to work with the school board to identify and transfer ownership to the district of an appropriate replace site that meets current standards for an elementary school.
And, that the city provide the district with the funding for a replacement school.
“Hjorth Road Elementary school is central to our community,” writes Tinney. “We realize and appreciate that the creation of a robust transportation system is in the best interest of Surrey, but we need to ensure that our community school remains viable and safe. Having access to a viable play field on-site is essential to the operation of a school.”
Tinney notes that meetings with the city so far have been “pro-active, supportive and collaborative.”
Surrey trustees supported Tinney’s report and unanimously endorsed Trustee Terry Allen’s motion to send Mayor Linda Hepner a copy of the report, as well as a written response to the concerns expressed.
Allen said prior to shovels going in the ground, there needs to be an agreement in place between the city and the board.
“The truth of the matter is, for the board of education, if it doesn’t benefit the students, then there will be no deal,” he said. “That’s what we’re elected to do and that’s what we will continue to do.”
Allen said he’s concerned that the district will end up having to close Hjorth Road if the project goes through.
“It will end up being the same as Fleetwood Park Elementary,” he noted. “It was surrounded by arterial roadways. It was deemed not to be suitable for the children. Where are we going to be with this if it happens here? Ultimately, if it goes forward, a new site will have to be provided and a new school will have to be provided.”
This neighbourhood, noted Allen, is one of the city’s lowest income.
“These students and Holly Elementary are the most vulnerable students. We’re committed to that school, and we always have been,” he said. “The city can do what it wants with Hawthorne Park but they can’t do what they want with our property.”
Allen said while he appreciates parkland, his “fight begins at the fence of Hjorth Road.”
“There’s a lot at stake,” he added.
“The city needs to know that. I’m not going to lie to you and say that city staff and our staff haven’t spoken. But I want to be very clear that there certainly is no deal between the council and the board of education.”
City hall has acknowledged the need to mitigate the impact on the school, including “evaluating opportunities for improvements to the school’s outdoor play field.”
In an interview with the Now-Leader last summer, manager of the 105 Avenue Connector project Victor Jhingan explained the proposed road “cuts the (school) field into two down the middle.”
“It doesn’t affect the playground, but affects the field,” he noted. “We’ve met with the school board and we’re talking about how we can offset the impact of the play field. It may mean acquiring another property.”
The city’s website says discussions have been initiated with the school district regarding the project plans and that it is “committed to implementing mitigation measures.”
Mayor Linda Hepner said Tinney’s report was “not a surprise, because we’ve been in discussions with the school board for a long time, since the spring.”
Hepner said she’s well aware the road would isolate the playing field and says the city is “working with them on how to mitigate it and get a better field adjacent to the school.”
The city is also committed to improving the playground at the same time, and enhancing pick-up and drop-off areas, she added.
Hepner said it has always been her intention to get an agreement in place with the district.
She noted the school is one of the older ones in Surrey, but said it’s “too early to speculate” on how a replacement would play out and the costs associated with that.
But, she said the city would pick up the tab for a replacement field, and it would be a better one than is currently on the property. She didn’t have estimates worked out, but based on other projects in the city, Hepner said it could be in the neighbourhood of $1 million to $2 million.
“I think that our starting point would be that Hjorth Road school has to remain whole. If it’s cutting through… then ensuring they have a playing field that is in the same proximity and in site lines of the school, then that’s where I would say we should be landing initially.”
The first and most pertinent detail that needs to be worked out, she noted, is whether the project is going through.
Hepner said the city clerk’s office is currently going through the thousands of signatures submitted last week in opposition to the plan.
If it doesn’t proceed, she noted, the city have to look at “congestment management.”
Hepner said once the names on the list are cross-referenced with the electorate list, the city will look at whether the project is proceeding.
The city has faced much opposition to the 105 Avenue Connector project, largely due to the plan including a road to be built through Hawthorne Park.
Opponents of the road through the park delivered more than 12,000 signatures to city hall last Friday.
“We’re not stopping,” said Steve Pettigrew who leads the Save Hawthorne Park Group, adding the “angry mob” is getting angrier and bigger.
Pettigrew said “the fly in the ointment right now” is when the city will be holding a final meeting to decide the fate of the park.
“It could be as early as Oct. 2nd or they could stretch it out for months hoping to wear us down,” he wrote in a post online. “I will be meeting with city staff on Monday (Sept. 25), and I will see if I can get a more definite date. The city’s action will determine our action.”
-With files from Tom Zytaruk