Friday July 17, 2020 ~ LANGFORD, BC
by Mary P Brooke, editor ~ West Shore Voice News
In the pause between the intense impact of the the COVID-19 first wave on schools in BC and the distinct possibility of a second wave of the pandemic (something the Ministry of Education is definitely planning for) Sooke School District 62 (SD62) has tucked in a mid-summer announcement about the purchase of land for a new school in south Langford.
Moving ahead with acquiring land for one more school is part of SD62’s continuing and aggressive capital plan to keep up with the projected population growth of about 400 new students per year in the Langford, Colwood and Sooke areas that are served by SD62.
For a few years now, SD62 has repeatedly pitched itself as being the fastest-growing school district per capita in BC, manifested by the west shore region consistently attracting new residents with a broad range of housing options considered to be relatively affordable within today’s economics.
SD62 that serves now over 11,000 students tries to keep up with the impact of continued housing growth in the region, particularly within the Langford municipality but also Colwood where huge some new developments are getting starting and to some extent in Sooke where growth is sporadic.
Much of the nuts and bolts of capital planning and school population numbers are discussed at SD Resource Committee meetings before being brought to the board.
One new future school that can accommodate 400 students absorbs just one year’s regional growth. For an elementary school to function optimally, 400 to 500 students is the peak of desirable size (for considerations of learning and administration) according to Ministry of Education guidance, says SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar.
BC Governments pays $7.7 million for land:
The new six-acre south Langford school site has been purchased to ensure land is available for a new 500-seat elementary school on the Westshore. The site is located north of the intersection of Latoria Road and Klahanie Drive near the borderline to Colwood.
The announcement about the $7.7 million land purchase (BC Government provided $6.74 million and SD62 contributing $960,000) was made this morning on the site by Premier John Horgan, Education Minister Rob Fleming, and SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar. Due to the active pandemic, apparently no media (other than one TV camera) or other stakeholders (such as municipal mayors and councillors or school trustees) were on site. Some media dialed-in via the government teleconference line.
The land was purchased from Ridley Bros Development Ltd which is building 450 homes (single-family and townhomes) on a 73-acre parcel along the 800-block of Latoria Road (construction by Langdon Weir Construction Ltd), within which an elementary school site was always part of the plan along with amenities for recreation and child care.
“Families deserve to know that schools will be available close to home,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. “We’ve moved quickly to invest in new and expanded schools, and land purchases on the west shore will support growth now and for generations to come.”
Today’s announcement was about land purchase. “We haven’t received funding for construction of the building yet,” said Parmar today.
Investing in school facilities:
In the past three years since the NDP came into office, Fleming says a total of $180 million has been invested by the BC Government in “expansion projects” within the west shore, in Horgan’s riding. Fleming says that will produce overall 1,800 new student seats by September 2022 (including the 600-seat expansion at Royal Bay Secondary and two new schools — elementary and middle — paired on the same property in the Westhills area). The goal has been to “get rid of portables and to place “new schools at centre of growing communities”.
“As more young families decide to raise their children on the Westshore, building and expanding schools here is a top priority for our government,” said Premier John Horgan, MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. “Strong public services, like education, are key to B.C.’s restart and recovery.”
In the news release for today’s event, Horgan said “building a new elementary school that will help keep class sizes small” as well as tucking in the local economic benefit during the pandemic as to “creating the jobs we need to get back on our feet”.
Education a top NDP government priority:
Fleming gave a shout out to Joel Palmer, executive director of the capital branch at the Ministry of Education, for his speedy hard work in getting projects started and fulfilled. Palmer — on site today for the announcement — has initiated 95 school capital projects for the ministry so far, said Fleming.
These investments are part of the $2 billion already announced for now 96 school capital projects throughout B.C. in less than three years, with 12,390 new student seats and nearly 26,000 seismically safe seats either completed or underway.
Other school expansion in the west shore:
Since September 2017, the Province has approved two new schools in West Langford and an expansion of Royal Bay Secondary, which combine for 1,800 new student seats coming to support students in one of the fastest-growing school districts in B.C. In addition, three school sites are in place for future schools.
Blasting and site preparations are being done for the two new West Langford schools on Constellation Avenue in Westhills. As announced on March 12 — at the last public event by SD62 before the pandemic fully hit — Pexsisen Elementary will have capacity for 500 students, while Centre Mountain Lellum Middle school will accommodate 700 students. Multiple gym and sports areas are part of the new schools as well as child care space. Construction tendering is in progress, and a successful proponent is expected to be named next month. Both schools are scheduled to open in September 2022.
SD62 Chair Parmar says the priority for school facility growth is in Langford and soon Colwood given the local population growth driven by housing. For the other end of the district — in the town area of Sooke — there are two key capital projects on the books (expansion at the EMCS high school and some day a new elementary school in the Sunriver area which has been part of the plan since 2007).
The following school capital projects have been approved in the Sooke School District since September 2017:
- West Langford (site purchase for two new schools)
- Royal Bay Secondary (600-seat addition)
- Skirt Mountain (site purchase)
- Pexsisen Elementary (500-seat new school)
- Centre Mountain Lellum Middle school (700-seat new school)
- North Langford (site purchase for new school)
- South Langford (site purchase for new school)
Schools within the community backbone:
“We’re not just building schools in the west shore, we’re building communities,” said Ravi Parmar, chairperson, Sooke School District. “The Sooke School District is committed to working with the provincial government to ensure families in our fast-growing district have schools where kids can learn close to home. With today’s announcement, we are planning a positive future for the many families who are choosing South Langford to call home.”
“Schools are happening places, not during just school hours but both inside and outside the school at all hours of the day and on weekends,” said Parmar today.
Parents finally being looped in:
For years SD62 has focussed rightly so on teachers and operations, as well as the core educational mandate but most notably on facilities expansion. In just the last year or two a carefully maintained adjustment to including some input from parents has started to happen. A few years ago West Shore Voice News began asking members of the board and senior staff as to ‘who the school district serves’ — whether students, teachers, parents or community. Some had thoughts, and others could not answer.
Including the SD62 parent organization rep (Cendra Beaton, who is the president of SPEAC) in yesterday’s government announcement about a land purchase was a start toward addressing the most important of the government’s audiences, i.e. parents who rely on the school system to provide a quality education to their children. As well, Minister Fleming made a push to mention the online parent survey about the COVID-season restart, although he said most of the plan was already in place.
===== About the writer:
Mary P Brooke, editor, West Shore Voice News has been covering the news of SD62 and public education up close since 2014, including board and committee meetings and a wide range of community events as well as the 2014 and 2018 trustee elections. She is the mother of four now-grown children who attended K-12 in SD61 and SD62, during which time she served as a parent rep (fundraising, libraries, and coordination of parents to achieve parking and sidewalk improvements at two schools).