The Ministry of Education is sending a message to all school boards in B.C. — there is no money for new schools, so don’t bother asking.
News of the government’s new policy didn’t go over well at Tuesday evening’s Langley board of education meeting.
“This is very disappointing. We have a real problem in this district with two schools opening over capacity,” said Trustee Megan Dykeman.
“Next year, how are we going to accommodate students in Willoughby?”
Secretary-treasurer David Green explained that the ministry sent a letter in July, telling school boards to no longer submit five-year capital funding plans.
“Normally, we submit a capital plan every fall. Not any more,” Green said.
“Given the significant need for school construction in Willoughby, this change presents a significant challenge.”
His sense is the province has spent money on large projects like the Port Mann Bridge and, soon, the Massey Tunnel, and there isn’t any money left.
“The money all comes from the same place,” Green said.
As well, the ministry now requires school districts to fund nearly 50 per cent of any new school project — making it nearly impossible for any district.
Langley has around $4 million to contribute to a new high school that would cost upwards of $30 million.
Building a high school takes up to 48 months, meaning a new school would not open any earlier than 2018. The district envisions its size would have to be similar to Walnut Grove Secondary.
All this bad news from the ministry means some big decisions in Langley, Green emphasized.
“The board needs to get into the thought process of disposing of properties.
“We have real short term needs and no real solutions.”
Developers have been clamouring to buy the Willoughby elementary site, he said.
The James Anderson school program has been relocated to Apex school and the building in Willoughby now sits empty.
The board and Green agreed that the slope area has hit a crisis point and if there isn’t a fix, students entering middle school will likely have to be bused to another school zone, to Langley Secondary or as far away as Aldergrove.
The board also needs to decide on what to do with the aging Langley Secondary.
The district doesn’t even have a site for a new high school, said Green. The new Yorkson Creek Middle School opened for classes on Sept. 22 with 793 students. It will be well over capacity by next year.
Every K-5 elementary school in Willoughby will be over capacity in September.
R.E. Mountain Secondary has a capacity for 725 students but currently has a population of 1,125. There are 16 portables on the school grounds.
In order to house an additional 400 to 500 students in the next 10 years, another 13 to 16 portables would be required. The physical site cannot accommodate that many portables, said Green.
The hope was to turn it into a middle school once a new high school opened.
Trustee Rob McFarlane called on families to speak up and let the province know that they have to come up with money for a school “because the kids are already in Willoughby” and there is nowhere for them to go.
In the end, trustees voted unanimously to send the five-year capital plan to the ministry, as a reminder of this district’s needs.
“Even if it is just recycled,” said Dykeman.
As well, the district will be meeting with parent groups in Willoughby to find out how best to go to the public about making some hard decisions about school sites and busing kids out of their home neighbourhoods.