Home Education Westshore - SD62 $12 million to build small new elementary school in Port Renfrew

$12 million to build small new elementary school in Port Renfrew

New seismically-safe elementary school aims for Sept 2025 opening.

sd62, education minister, port renfrew, new school
SD62 and Port Renfrew leadership joined Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh and MLA Ravi Parmar (Langford-Juan de Fuca) for the Port Renfrew Elementary School announcement, March 12, 2024 at the BC Legislature. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Wednesday March 13, 2024 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated March 14, 2024]

by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

Announcing the go-ahead for a small new 50-seat elementary school in Port Renfrew was considered significant enough to announce in the Hall of Honour at the BC Legislature yesterday.

Currently there are only about 14 students at the current Port Renfrew Elementary in the small remote community of Port Renfrew on mid-north Vancouver Island. But the current school is considered to be the most seismically-vulnerable of all schools in BC.

ravi parmar, port renfrew
Local MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca Ravi Parmar (who is Parliamentary Secretary for International Credentials) at the Port Renfrew Elementary School seismic new-build announcement, March 12, 2024. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

With construction to get underway soon toward an expected September 2025 opening, the seismically-reinforced replacement school comes at a cost of $12 million from the provincial capital budget.

The school is within Sooke School District 62 (SD62) which otherwise focuses its attention on their fast-growth population challenges within in Langford, Colwood and Sooke.

district of sooke

Severed from middle school plan:

A new middle school is apparently also still under discussion for Port Renfrew, with a federal funding request as part of the business plan for that building. The elementary school project was initially combined with the middle school idea, including a request to the federal Indigenous Relations ministry for funding to support that.

Yesterday’s announcement did not seek to mention the federal funding aspect or the middle school project. Those issues came up through media questions from Island Social Trends. We are awaiting a response from the Ministry of Education and Child Care as to the status of the federal funding request and the possibility of a new middle school in Port Renfrew.

The federal funding attempt was given a good shot, including support from then-Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health Carolyn Bennett and mention in the House of Commons in June 2023 by local MP Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford).

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Seismic zone:

Port Renfrew is in a region of west/north Vancouver Island that is located within a significant seismic zone, with the near-certain likelihood of tsunami in the event of a major quake.

Schools across BC are often also used as emergency response centres as well as general community activities.

At the legislature:

The announcement about the elementary school capital expansion within Sooke School District 62 (SD62) was made on Tuesday in the Hall of Honour at the BC Legislature by Minister of Education and Child Care Rachna Singh and former SD62 Board Chair Ravi Parmar who is now the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca (and also recently became the Parliamentary Secretary for International Credentials). Politically-speaking, that was a way to also acknowledge Parmar’s role in ushering along SD62 issues at the provincial level.

paul block, allison watson, sd62
SD62 Superintendent Paul Block and Trustee Allison Watson attended the Port Renfrew elementary school announcement on March 12, 2024 at the BC Legislature. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Also addressing the media and various staff and board representatives of SD62 (past and present) was current board chair Amanda Dowhy. SD62 Superintendent Paul Block attended in the audience.

Current SD62 board trustees who accompanied Chair Dowhy were Russ Chipps, Christine Lervold, Trudy Spiller and Allison Watson (of those, Dowhy and Watson were elected from the SD62’s Milne’s Landing Zone — i.e. with voters in Juan de Fuca where the Port Renfrew school is located).

dumont tirecraft, wet roads

A two-way livestream of Port Renfrew Elementary principal Cory Meausette and his students at the current school played live as the announcement got started. The kids were pretty excited!

Serving the broader community:

A significant financial investment by the province in the remote fishing-tourism town of Port Renfrew on northwest Vancouver Island is an opportunity to also support facility requirements for the broader local community.

“I am so proud that it will provide students and the entire community a place to gather, learn, play and grow.”

sd62, education minister, port renfrew, new school
SD62 and Port Renfrew leadership joined Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh and MLA Ravi Parmar (Langford-Juan de Fuca) for the Port Renfrew Elementary School announcement, March 12, 2024 at the BC Legislature. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

This was the first week on the job for the new Chief of the Pacheedaht First Nation, Arliss Daniels, who also addressed the assembly of folks at today’s short media session.

amanda dowhy, sd62
SD62 Board Chair Amanda Dowhy at Port Renfrew Elementary announcement, March 12, 2024. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

“Our collaboration with the Pacheedaht Nation over the years has been instrumental in achieving this milestone, and we look forward to furthering our partnership as the school project progresses from plans to reality,” said Dowhy.

al wickheim, crd jdf, director
Al Wickheim is the Electoral Area Director for Juan de Fuca. [CRD]

Port Renfrew is located with the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area of the Capital Regional District (CRD). JDFEA Director Al Wickheim attended the March 12 announcement.

Horgan-driven focus on SD62:

In the past six years SD62 has received about $270 million from the provincial government, politically driven by former Premier John Horgan who was MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca during 2005-2023 (Premier 2017-2022), a mantle now handed to Parmar since his by-election win in summer 2023.

rachna singh, john horgan, sd62
Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh came out to the Sooke School District on John Horgan’s last day as MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca, March 31, 2023. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

In the period since the NDP has led the provincial government about 2,660 new student spaces have been created in SD62 (2017-2022) which delivers public education to families in the fast-growing west shore area of Greater Victoria.

That scope of classroom space additions has included:

Minister Rachna Singh was hand-picked by Horgan to run in 2017 for the NDP, as told to Island Social Trends by Singh last year. MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, Singh has first-hand experience of the challenges experienced in a fast-growing school district as both a parent and politician in Surrey.

soil quality, workshop, langford, 2024

Non-stop student population growth:

The SD62 student population has grown by about 300 to 500 new students each year for the past 10 years. An entire facility-planning, capital-strategy, and layer of district administration has grown within SD62 along with the needs to meet the population increase demands. Population increase projections have been nearly bang-on for most of those years, a significant data exercise led by now SD62 Superintendent Paul Block. District Principal of Capital Planning has been Windy Beadall.

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PEXSISEN Elementary School in Langford opened in Sept 2022. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Housing growth in the west shore (notably Langford and Colwood in recent years, as well as in Sooke) has been part of the Capital Regional District (CRD) regional growth strategy since 2003 (current plan adopted in 2018 and updated in 2021); it was originally a mechanism to help preserve the core areas of Greater Victoria (including Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt) in their current format while taking advantage of available land in the the west shore region for anticipated population growth.

Of the west shore municipalities with the CRD both Metchosin and Highlands have steadfastly remained rural.

urban food resilience initiatives society, logo
The Urban Food Resilience Initiatives Society is based in the west shore of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

It took a while for the SD62 school district to catch up with adequate classroom spaces. That has had as much to do with politics (previous BC Liberal government 2001-2017 only built schools once they saw population increases in place) as it has had to do with the cost and complexity of land purchase and facility construction (clearly a huge undertaking but not an impediment).

Ministry engagement:

“We are in constant touch with the school district,” Minister Singh told Island Social Trends after the formal announcement.

Singh has visited in SD62 schools many times now since becoming education minister in 2022 under Premier David Eby. She toured Royal Bay Secondary in January 2023, visited at Ruth King Elementary in October 2023 (to announce new pre-fab modular classrooms for Ruth King and David Cameron schools by September 2024), and just last week she was at Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School to announce a boost to the provincial Student and Family Affordability Fund.

ravi parmar, rachna singh
Parliamentary Secretary for International Credentials, Ravi Parmar, accompanied Minister of Education and Child Care Rachna Singh for an announcement held at Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School in Langford on March 6, 2024. [SD62]

One new elementary school per year:

Each year, SD62 needs the student seating capacity equivalent to one more elementary school per year. “We are trying to keep up with the pace,” said Minister Singh. “Districts are facing the pressure. We are committed to investing in our schools since 2017,” she told Island Social Trends.

harold cull, randy cobb, fred hibbs, sd62
SD62 staff at naming ceremony for the new south Langford elementary school, Aug 14, 2023 (from left): Harold Cull, Secretary-Treasurer; Randy Cobb, Transportation Manager; and Fred Hibbs, Executive Director, Human Resources. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Budget 2024 includes $3.75 billion for school capital projects over the next three years including new and expanded schools, seismic upgrades and replacements, and land purchases for future schools.

History reflected in the audience:

The political accomplishment of today’s new school announcement for such a small community was celebrated by VIPs going back many years. Former SD62 Superintendent Jim Cambridge (who retired from SD62 in 2018), and former SD62 trustee/vice-chair Bob Beckett (who served one term 2018-2022) were on hand for the announcement.

jim cambridge, SD62, 2018
Former SD62 Superintendent Jim Cambridge (in June 2018). [Island Social Trends]

Also attending today was SD62 Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull who has skillfully guided the budget and strategic aspects of achieving facility growth over many years, through a creative capital plan and some creative operational budget management.

monk office, chairs

Recently retired SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson (in the top job 2018-2022) did not attend but was acknowledged by Parmar as being instrumental in the Port Renfrew school project.

scott stinson
SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson at the May 3, 2022 Education Policy Committee meeting. [MS Teams]

Superintendent Block pleased with provincial support:

SD62 Superintendent Paul Block has been with SD62 for over 30 years, at least the last 10 years in senior district administration positions (associate superintendent, then deputy superintendent).

rachna singh, paul block, amanda dowhy, sd62, legislature
At the formal announcement of funding for a new elementary school in Port Renfrew, March 12, 2024 (from left): Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh; SD62 Superintendent Paul Block; and SD62 Board Chair Amanda Dowhy. [Mary P Brooke / Island Social Trends]

Block was pleased yesterday at the progress being made for capital projects and continued efforts to keep up with the demand for enough seats for the continually growing SD62 student population.

“I’ve never seen the level of support that we’re receiving right now from the provincial government,” said Block in a quick interview with Island Social Trends after the formal announcement. “We’ve been very fortunate,” said Block, referencing all the other challenges faced by school districts across the province.

“We’ve worked very hard on that relationship as well, and we’ve worked really hard to make sure that the provincial government understands the challenges that we have in the Sooke School District. I think we’re stepping up to the plate in every way possible. I really hope there’s more good news to come because we’re not done,” said Block who got rolling in the top position of SD62 Superintendent on January 1, 2024.

“We still have that challenge of growth but in today’s day and age with all the challenges our governments are facing I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful for the work that the Ministry of Education and the provincial government is doing for us,” said Block.

alistair macgregor, langford

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Island Social Trends reports news with socioeconomic insights and analysis. Independent news service on south Vancouver Island, BC.


headshot, mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor & Publisher of Island Social Trends.

Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke has been covering SD62 issues at the board and committee level since 2014.

Ms Brooke covered the COVID pandemic daily during 2020-2022 and in 2023 started reporting with the BC Legislative Press Gallery.

Mary Brooke raised her four children during the years where provincial politics had a negative impact on public education (notably the 2001-2016 period of cutbacks under the former BC Liberals). Her son and three daughters attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD72.

Ms Brooke applied her awareness of SD62 and education issues during her SD62 trustee campaign in 2022, in particular supporting the rights of parents within public education.

Island Social Trends is published in Langford and serves an audience within the west shore area of Greater Victoria, the south Vancouver Island region, and province/nationwide on the broader issues. The online daily news posts are at IslandSocialTrends.ca and there is now a biweekly print/PDF edition available free within community and as PDF by paid Premium subscription.

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