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Surrey school district looks at building up for future elementary schools

Staff presented to Surrey council on school site funding priorities
The addition at Sullivan Elementary. In the future, the district is looking to build elementary schools with more storeys and higher density. (Photo: Surrey Schools/Twitter)

Surrey school district staff says as they plan for schools in the next decade, they’re looking at building larger schools and “going vertical.”

Dave Riley, the district’s capital project office director, presented to Surrey’s council-in-committee Monday (Oct. 18) regarding the district’s school site funding priorities.

Riley said Surrey is anticipating about 6,500 new elementary students and about 5,700 new secondary students over the next decade.

He noted in the 2020-21 school year, 3,815 new student spaces opened, there are currently 2,230 spaces under construction and 3,225 spaces that are being designed or in a feasibility study.

But when looking at building in the future, Riley said, “We are going vertical, we’re going larger and we’re trying to go in earlier, we’re going greener and we’re looking at going denser.”

Riley pointed to developments in Vancouver and Toronto in terms of density.

“This will not be the case everywhere, but certainly in the City Centre and along the future SkyTrain, we do need to be thinking about what a school looks like in a denser, urban environment.”

He added multi-storey elementary schools are “becoming in the norm” in many parts of the world, including the Lower Mainland. The majority of elementary schools in the district are one or two storeys.

“Here in Surrey, we are beginning to see the need for multi-story elementary schools and we forecast that this will continue to be the case as we move forward,” said Riley, adding that approach allows for smaller sites and reserves additional play space on the fields for students.

He added standard elementary schools in the district are 655 seats now, “but we do recognize land is going to become scarce and we need to be proactive in securing sites that will allow us to go up to 900 in the future should that need arise.”

However, Coun. Laurie Guerra noted that when she was in elementary school in Vancouver, multi-storey schools were normal, adding she’s “quite surprised that the school district in such a fast-growing district like Surrey didn’t already have those multi-levelled elementary schools.”

As for “going in earlier,” Riley said the district works with the city to identify areas in neighbourhood concept plans that are going to need a new school or addition “well in advance of when development starts.”

In July, the district submitted a $1.44-billion capital plan funding request for 27 projects that include new student spaces, seismic upgrades and replacement schools.

READ ALSO: Surrey school district looks for sites for 8 more schools – including 2nd secondary in Grandview, Sept. 18, 2021

“That’s what we believe we need to keep pace with the growth that’s anticipated in Surrey and to catch up on all of the portables that we have presently in the district,” said Riley. “That $1.4 billion is made up of $26 million of minor capital, which is building envelop projects, minor maintenance, playgrounds, that sort of thing; and $1.4 billion of major capital.”

Following the presentation Coun. Allison Patton asked when the district expects to hear back about the funding, and if they expect to get that much.

Riley said the district usually finds out in March how much funding is allocated to each district, but he added they do not expect to get the full amount requested.

“Traditionally, we have gotten somewhere in the $200 million range every year.”

READ ALSO: Surrey school district releases online ventilation database, but critics say more needs to be done, Oct. 16, 2021

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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