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Surrey school district looking at ‘urban’ school models to combat over-crowding

Fleetwood, Grandview, Clayton and Tynehead areas experiencing rapid growth
Grandview Heights Secondary opened its doors to 1,100 students in 2021. As Surrey continues to experience rapid growth in many areas, school district officials are considering implementing an urban school model to help accommodate more students. (Peace Arch News photo)

The Surrey school district is considering implementing urban school models for new school sites to help combat overcrowding, which persists throughout School District No. 36.

At the regular school board meeting on Wednesday (March 8) night, a presentation to trustees discussed how SkyTrain coming to Surrey’s Fleetwood neighbourhood will impact enrolment.

“Fleetwood is not somewhere that was necessarily on the radar, but is also something that will be an aggressive timeline when it comes to build out,” Supt. Mark Pearmain said.

An urban school model, which has been implemented in some municipalities, includes schools located in or near community centres, typically serving an area of a city that is over-populated. Because of land constraints, the schools are usually built up, rather than out, and have underground parking.

During the presentation, David Riley, director at the district’s capital projects office, explained the 9.5 km-square Fleetwood area has a population of 47,000 people – a number that is expected to increase by 100,000 once the SkyTrain extension and multi-family townhouse and high-rise development in the area are complete.

Fleetwood Park Secondary is currently running over-capacity, said Laurie Larsen, chair of the school board.

The high school has a capacity of 1,200 students but as of Jan. 31, enrolment sat at 1,640 students. That number has likely risen since, said Ritinder Matthew, associate director of the district’s communication services. To keep up with increasing enrolment, the school uses seven portables, but is expected to have 11, come September.

ALSO READ: Additional space coming to Surrey’s Kwantlen Park Secondary to combat over-crowding

Estimates for new students are “somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 additional students living in this area, above and beyond those that are currently attending the schools that are in those areas,” Riley said.

The projected numbers are contingent on development building out in accordance to the Stage 1 Land Use Plan, and do not account for “bonus density,” which would make the numbers significantly higher.

“We are contemplating additions to all of the schools in the Fleetwood area. We believe that through optimization of land use, additions, underground parking, etc. we could get 3,000 students more into the existing school buildings. That of course leaves us short by 6,000 and 10,000 or more depending on the approval of bonus density,” Riley said.

But the addition of 3,000 more students to the existing schools in the neighbourhood is a concern, Larsen said, pointing to Walnut Road Elementary, which has 44 staff parking spots, but the actual number of staff is double that. Because of parking limitations, the visitor parking gets filled by staff, as well as most of the available street parking areas.

“Even if we get space for the classrooms, we have to recognize that that doesn’t give us additional gym or music space, it doesn’t give us playground space, outdoor space or parking space,” she said.

The district is working with the City of Surrey to find a new site for another secondary school in the area, as well as six to eight additional elementary schools. Buying additional land is crucial, but depends on ministry funding.

Fleetwood is not the only Surrey neighbourhood that is experiencing rapid growth.

“We are still working (through) significant growth down in the south; the Grandview Heights area still has lots of growth to happen,” Riley said, adding that Clayton and Tynehead are in a similar situation.

In 2020, there were 378 portables being used throughout the district. That number now sits at 361. However, an additional 35 portables are being purchased and will be added to schools in September 2024 because enrolment is projected to increase.

Thirty nine portables now sitting empty will be re-located to schools in need of the additional space for the fall semester.

The district’s research department is looking at examples of urban school models in other jurisdictions, said Christy Northway, assistant superintendent for Newton/Fleetwood. That includes other areas of the province — such as Vancouver and New Westminster — but also other parts of the country and internationally.

“We can look at partnering with businesses to have schools in commercial properties or possibly working with the city to have them near community centres or possibly attached to community centres and with that brings a lot of opportunities,” said Andrew Holland, deputy superintendent.

New opportunities might include shared spaces for art, fitness rooms, science labs and kitchen areas.

Another option discussed during the presentation would be to build multi-storey schools, or add storeys to existing schools.

“I can’t personally see secondary students in a ‘downtown’ structure, so maybe we need to look at one of the existing elementarys and it becomes a secondary (school) for that area and we put the elementary (students) in a tower,” said Gary Tymoschuk, vice chair of the board.

“The way that we have built schools and opened schools over the years as the chair (Larsen) mentioned – the rancher style – I think those days are gone and we’re going to have to look at two-, three-, four-(storey), who knows how high the school will be.”

Trustee Terry Allen said one of the main issues with changes to handle the projected growth, is that the improvements needed are in addition to the five- and 10-year capital plan that is submitted to the ministry each year.

“The SkyTrain corridor is over and above everything we’ve already planned for the next 10 years,” he said.

“It doesn’t make any sense that developers are going to buy up all the land and then we’re going to go cup-in-hand, begging for land that’s probably doubled in price by the time the SkyTrain gets down to Langley in 2028.”

Trustee Bob Holmes highlighted that funding from the ministry needs to reflect the needs of the Surrey school district, which is the province’s largest.

“We really need to see government step up and we are optimistic about that… but we’re still not to the point where we’re thinking this far forward,” he said.

ALSO READ: Discussions about safety for students divides school community in Surrey school district


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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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