Tuesday June 14, 2022 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 1:46 pm June 15, 2022]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Just last week the news was that no new schools were being funded in the 2022-2023 year in the fast-growing SD62 Sooke School District.
Fast-forward by just a few days, and voila! SD62 has been advised of funding for the elementary school in the Latoria area of Langford (right at the border of Colwood). The sloped land for that school was purchased a few years ago — in 2020 with $7.7 million from the Province and a contribution of $960,000 from the school district (announced during the COVID pandemic with little fanfare).
The South Langford Elementary School will be built at 804 Latoria Road (north of the intersection of Latoria Road and Klahanie Drive). It will seat 480 students, which is on the larger side for an elementary school (several in SD62 are smaller than that, though Pixsisen Elementary — the newest one opening in September 2022 — has been built to accommodate 500).
The school is in Premier John Horgan’s riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca. The neighbouring Colwood is in Mitzi Dean, MLA’s riding of Esquimalt-Metchosin.
The Government of B.C. has approved $39.6 million to build the new south Langford elementary school. The Sooke School District has committed to contribute an additional $1 million.
The school is expected to be ready for students in the fall of 2025. It will have elevators and accessible gender-neutral washrooms as part of the design.
The project was supported by the Ministry as part of SD62’s capital response letter. “We did not get any major capital projects in our 2022 response,” says SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson.
Schools across the west shore:
In the upcoming two new schools in west Langford (opening September 2022), SD62 has 26 schools spread over 27 locations in the west shore: 18 elementary schools, four middle schools, three elementary schools, and one adult/alternative school.
There are currently over 11,000 students. That number grows by 300 to 500 students each year; since at least 2014 the SD62 school board has been focussed on land acquisition and construction management, with all the catchment changes, bus transportation issues (families are encouraged to have children walk, ride or roll to school, as SD62 aims to cap ridership due to costs), and hiring to go along with it.
Large elementary school:
“We are very excited to share that we will be adding 480 new K-5 elementary student spaces to the school district,” said Superintendent Stinson in a statement to Island Social Trends this afternoon. “The growth in the Happy Valley catchment area and along Latoria Road will be a welcome addition for the school district,” Stinson said.
“The size of 480 is equivalent to the size of schools that are trying to build in order to meet capacity needs in the district,” says Stinson, while pointing out that the upcoming Pixsisen Elementary in west Langford is being built to accommodate 500.
Fast-growing west shore:
The City of Langford and City of Colwood have been fast-growing municipal areas since 2011, when housing construction started taking off as a way to provide affordable homes for people in the Greater Victoria area. Langford’s population is now at about 50,000 people, and the population of Colwood is now about 21,000.
Together Langford and Colwood (together with View Royal, Metchosin and Highlands, if one uses the West Shore Chamber of Commerce delination) are locally known as ‘the west shore’. The ‘west’ adjective is relevant to being geographically west of the core area of Greater Victoria, generally comprised of Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, and Esquimalt). People ‘work, live and play’ in a combinant fashion between Langford and Colwood.
The housing boom has been driven by Langford developers and the City of Langford — in response to the housing crisis in the Greater Victoria area (much development seen in Westhills, the Glen Lake and Happy Valley areas, and as high-density in the downtown core). And in the past few years the City of Colwood has experienced robust housing development as well (notably the Royal Bay neighbourhood which is emerging as its own new community).
In fact, the largest high school in south Vancouver Island is in Colwood — Royal Bay Secondary School opened in September 2015 and was already full; another 600 seats were added a few years later.
And SD62 already has another high school on the wish-list for Langford, which will give that municipality two high schools (the current one being the new Belmont Secondary School or ‘Belmont 2.0’ which also opened in September 2015).
Langford municipal comment:
[This Langford section/updated inserted on June 15]: The next day, Langford Mayor Stew Young has stated in a news release: “It’s encouraging to see the Government of BC and the Sooke School District working collaboratively together to serve the families of Langford.”
“We are grateful for Ravi’s (i.e. Ravi Parmar, SD62 board chair) service and ongoing dedication to the youth of Langford. Langford is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and it is vital that our school system grows along with us,” said Stew Young.
This is an election year in which municipal and school board candidates might be seen in alignment.
“Langford will continue to work in partnership with SD62 on behalf of residents to provide the best education opportunities, along with sports fields and recreation facilities for youth sports programs and for all residents of Langford to enjoy,” it was stated in the City of Langford release June 15.
Langford has long been establishing itself as a ‘national sports capital’, and has organized itself deeply into the youth-level of sports in the community.
Ministry funding rollout:
Schools do take a few years to build. Since 2017, the Ministry of Education and Child Care has issued to SD62 over $200 million in capital projects.
That includes land acquisition in West Langford, South Langford (supporting the Latoria announcement today), South Colwood, North Langford (secondary school site) and North Langford (elementary school site).
Ministry funding since 2017 has also included the Royal Bay Secondary School expansion, the much-promoted two new schools in Westhills that will be opening this fall (Pexsisen Elementary and Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School, on a shared hilltop property on Constellation Avenue), replacement of the building envelope at Hans Helgesen Elementary, and seismic upgrades to Ruth King Elementary and Dunsmuir Middle School.
SD62 finds themselves having to acquire land that requires leveling (at additional cost of time and funds for the design and the work, as well as acquiring the skilled labour), as there seems now to be a premium of flat land left in the region.
As part of the land purchased for this new South Langford school in the Latoria area, SD62 negotiated the excavation of the property to two elevations in order to expedite building and reduce costs at the time of construction, says Stinson. “We have been working on the design for some time now and are hopeful to move forward quickly now that the public announcement has been made by the Ministry,” Stinson told Island Social Trends today.
What keeps getting pushed down the list is the building envelope upgrade at Edward Millne Community School (high school) in Sooke town proper, which has been on the list for that work since around 2015.
The school will be built with an environmentally friendly design, focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions during construction and operation.
“Every year, we see more and more families moving to Langford to raise their children, and we are supporting this growing community by building good schools close to home,” said Premier Horgan in a news release today.
“By using mass timber in the construction of this school, we will also be supporting good-paying forestry jobs, reducing carbon pollution and keeping our kids learning in small class sizes,” said Horgan.
The new school will provide 480 seats and a better place to learn for students in the Latoria neighbourhood. It will include a neighbourhood learning centre, which will be used for community programs, such as child care. Elevators and accessible gender-neutral washrooms are part of the design. The school is expected to be ready for students in fall 2025.
The school will be built using mass timber, a climate-friendly building practice that will reduce the overall carbon footprint of construction. B.C. is a world leader in the use of mass timber and has prioritized its use in the StrongerBC Economic Plan to align with the government’s goal of helping businesses and people transition to clean energy solutions. I
n addition to mass timber, other efforts such as the use of heat pumps, thick exterior wall insulation and unit ventilators will help lower the overall carbon footprint of the school.
Burgeoning student populations in SD62 schools still requires the use of portable classrooms, despite all the construction. SD62 says there will be 55 portables in use for the 2022-2023 school year, and that “as of right now, we do not anticipate the need to move portables from their current sites”, according to SD62 Communications Manager Kristen McGillivray. She says that is based on the uptake by the two new schools in Westhills opening up in September.
Meanwhile, each August there is usually a last-minute shuffle of portables to line up with confirmed or expected student registrations.
SD62 Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull said at a recent public meeting that portables may have to be returned once again to Royal Bay Secondary for September 2022, full as the school is again, to the rafters.
Estimating student population growth:
Each year since around 2014, the student population of SD62 has been in the range of 300 to 500 more students. For Fall 2021 the estimate was off by nearly 50 percent (about 800 new students arrived on the SD62 doorstep), as families are squeezing more people into homes than would normally be expected, said SD62 Associate Superintendent Paul Block in recent weeks. That’s not only families in 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom condos, but what appears to be ‘single family homes’ in Langford in particular are actually houses with built-in suites (which of course pushes up the total population influx as these houses come on stream).
The municipalities of Langford, Colwood and Sooke do provide their housing-starts numbers to Sooke School District SD62, but parsing the details from there is up to SD62 staff. Going forward, there can be a reasonable expectation that per-household population will be higher than in years gone by.
“Our government is making historic investments in school projects like this one, and after many years of underfunding by the old government, there’s more work to do. We are committed to building and expanding schools in communities throughout the province,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education and Child Care, in today’s BC government news release.
“This new school in Langford will be a space that fosters a sense of community and belonging, and it will meet the needs of a diverse group of students now and for future generations,” said Whiteside.
New BC schools are now including child care spaces and spaces that can be used by the surrounding community in non-instructional hours for programming in a ‘neighbourhood learning centre’ (NLC).
Budget 2022 includes $3.1 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.
Since September 2017, the Province has invested more than $1 billion for new and expanded schools, creating more than 15,500 new student seats throughout B.C. This includes a total of $227 million in the Sooke School District alone, with 2,280 new student seats announced in less than four years.
SD62 Chair comments:
“The Sooke School District is delighted with the announcement of a new elementary school in south Latoria that will support the ever-growing enrolment of students in Langford,” said SD62 Chair Ravi Parmar.
Parmar is also a senior executive in the BC government, currently in the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation. In the past few years he seems to have brought a more corporate approach to the operational directions within the SD62 administration.
Parmar has been Chair for most of his two terms on the SD62 Board of Education, and is evidently planning to run again in the October 2022 school board election. School board elections run concurrently with municipal elections. It’s presently a four-year cycle (previously three years per term).
School trustees generally work closely with municipal elected officials, especially in the west shore where facilities planning is somewhat coordinated due to the shared use of these buildings (child care, neighbourhood learning centre programming, after-hours parking, etc).
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Island Social Trends Editor Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Cert PR, has been reporting on Sooke School District SD62 news up close at the board and committee level since 2014. That’s been part of broader news coverage of the west shore municipalities, politics, and community growth.
Mary is the proud mother of four now-adult children who previously attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD72. At various points, Ms Brooke provided leadership on the PACs at Margaret Jenkins Elementary (in Victoria) and John Muir Elementary (in Sooke). In those years, the government of the day (pre-NDP) slashed school funding and tied up teacher’s collective agreements; there were many shortfalls in the ability of schools to fully function and credit goes to teachers whose commitment to education carried the ball.
SD62 graduates crossing the stage (June 6, 2022)
Two SD62 grads receive exceptionally large scholarships (June 4, 2022)
Traffic light installation on Langford Parkway (June 1, 2022)
Dealing with $3+ million shortfall in 2022-2023 SD62 budget (April 20, 2022)
Public input coming up on SD62 budget 2022-2023 (April 12, 2022)