Langley Advance Times is offering this weekly feature, called “At Your Service.”
It’s another forum in which to put questions to our local politicians about key issues facing our community and its residents.
Using a basic question-and-answer format, elected officials will be asked one question at a time and given the opportunity to respond (to a maximum of 250 words) on that said issue.
Alternating between elected groups, Langley City and Langley Township councils, Langley school board, Langley MLAs, and Langley MPs each have a chance to participate.
The answers provided will be published in their entirety online Sundays.
Each school trustee was asked the same question: As more are needed, should the average size of elementary schools in the future increase, to help save on the cost of land and construction?
Board chair Rod Ross
The needs of our youth post-pandemic are such that class sizes cannot be increased.
The stresses on families and students are great enough. Concerns and anxiety are off the charts and they were high before this two-year COVID test!
That being said, small schools are expensive to build and operate.
I agree we need to think differently as a province in how we fund new school construction.
First of all we need to build upwards as the cost of land is roughly $3M per acre. Single-storey schools are a luxury of the past.
Secondly, school districts are all competing for limited provincial capital dollars. We must think differently and look how districts can work collaboratively to solve these problems.
B.C. is still the Hawaii of Canada and I do not see a lessening of in-migration from the rest of the country. Growth is here to stay.
I think the good ol’ days of funding all aspects of the education system are long past us. The challenges ahead, and there will be many, require a new mindset that I wonder if our elected leaders everywhere have the courage and forthrightness and resolve to talk about them and implement them.
It’s time for a new breed of leadership.
Trustee Shelley Coburn
A. It would seem the most logical response to this question would be “yes of course.”
But, this is not the best solution.
Primarily because growth is never sustained.
No neighbourhood increases forever and eventually this growth plateaus. As a new neighbourhood becomes an older neighbourhood the amount of elementary-aged school children will lessen and where we once saw rapid growth, we begin to see decline.
One does not have to look too far to see what declining enrolment means for our schools– Langley Secondary School comes to mind. The school was not at capacity and as a result the board was faced with some very difficult decisions. This is to do with the way in which the province funds and builds schools.
If a school is being under utilized – i.e., not at capacity – the province applies pressure on districts and boards to remedy this situation.
This usually results in the closing of a school. The land is then later sold to fund the cost of the next new build in the next developing neighbourhood, where the cycle starts and again.
Until the province changes their philosophy on how they fund, design, and build schools, we will forever be in this same reactive – as opposed to proactive – model of school builds.
Trustee Charlie Fox
A.In reality, as the population of the Township of Langley and City of Langley grow, we have to be more prudent in our school site development.
The size of schools definitely needs to be increased allowing for the growth to be accommodated within the walls of the newly constructed buildings.
The challenge has always been that what the ministry funds, and what the growth rate of school-aged children is. The growth rate seriously outstrips the construction profile and allowable size of funded new schools.
The most recent schools constructed do have space for portables build in to the site plan, this acts as a buffer for growth. But it is not the answer.
In terms of the land needed for schools, at the cost of $3,000,000+ an acre the need to build up in terms of adding second storeys will be a necessity.
Traditionally the school district has required a five-acre site for an elementary school and considerably more for a middle and/or secondary site.
As the cost of bare land continues to escalate, absolutely, we may need to look at smaller building sites, and taller building envelopes, to deal with the shrinking amount of land available within the urban containment boundary.
Trustee Suzanne Perreault
A. Schools are complex systems that include where the pressure of the demographics are occurring and is certainly something to be aware of, watch for and respond to.
But larger buildings are not a single cause-and-effect answer.
However, having that awareness also needs to be measured against the K-5 school configurations, quality of community and relationship building within schools, impact on teaching/learning, budgets made available, and steps towards the middle school models.
With the k-5 structure, we need to be mindful of the complexities of having large numbers in our buildings, as it pressures by growing communities.
We know education is key to poverty reduction and social development, and often when classrooms become too large it can impact relationship development, quality of learning, and teaching – something I would think need to be observed carefully.
Trustee David Tod
A. Thanks for the question!
While some may be tempted to advocate for larger elementary schools in our high growth areas, I believe that a K-5 school struggles when it goes above 450.
I have worked in large elementary schools, but at a certain point of crowding, school culture, and conduct often displays a negative effect.
Recesses have to be staggered and other accommodations are incorporated to deal with crowded fields and play areas.
Therefore I am not in favour of large ( above 500) K-5 schools.
Trustee Tony Ward
A.The Langley School District needs to be dynamic and open to various ideas and considerations as it pertains to the acquisition of land and school sizing.
This is especially relevant given the rapid densification Langley has seen in the last 10 years and with it, ever decreasing land availability.
Larger elementary schools may be considered, however, like all ideas, there are trade-offs.
With larger schools there will be certain economies of scale in the school build, while at the same time larger (centralized) schools would present additional transportation considerations for both parents, as well as the school district – specifically in terms of managing safety, time, and funding in the best way possible.
Additionally, we will need to maintain (or improve) existing standards in terms of education and facilities. As with all our ‘big’ decisions, we need to first ask ourselves “will this help us to improve educational outcomes for all students?”
Trustee Marnie Wilson
A. This trustee failed to reply to this query, prior to deadline.
Next week, Langley MLAS are being asked: How should the province help people facing steep increases in the price of gas, and the ripple effect it’s going to have on other goods and services?
Watch for their answers online Sunday.