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Money coming for new middle, elementary schools in Willoughby

Education Minister George Abbott visited James Hill Elementary School last week, one of several schools he toured during his tour of Langley. - submitted picture
Education Minister George Abbott visited James Hill Elementary School last week, one of several schools he toured during his tour of Langley.
— image credit: submitted picture

Funding for new schools was the topic du jour asked of B.C. Minister of Education George Abbott, who spent last Wednesday touring Langley schools.

Abbott told The Times that the money promised in October 2011 by Premier Christy Clark will be in place for construction to begin by the end of 2012.

Abbott confirmed that he now has the power to release new money and no longer has to go through the treasury board to give projects the OK. That should speed up the process, he said.

Almost $60 million has been set aside for the building of a middle and elementary school, Abbott said. Both of those will be constructed at the same time with an estimated completion date of 2014, said school district secretary-treasurer David Green.

At the same time Abbott was touring, Langley School District was confirming the location of the new elementary school will be at 209 Street and 77 Avenue. The middle school will built in the Yorkson area on 84 Avenue.

That means three new schools will be built by that time, but none of those will be in the Willoughby slope area, which has faced a huge population growth over the past seven years.

RC Garnett has a student population more than double its capacity with future growth predicted, even with its change to a K-5.

Asked if the ministry will ever change its policy about how it approves schools to be built, he replied that he likes what he sees with the board of education’s long term facilities planning.

School district secretary-treasurer Green agrees.

“The long term facilities plan will identify capital plan projects for the next five years. The results may be the expansion of R.C. Garnett or/and Mountain Secondary,” said Green.

Currently, funding for new schools in B.C. will not be approved until a school district can prove a neighbourhood has the population to accommodate it.

The problem most municipalities have, as Langley has in the Willoughby area, is the schools are already way over capacity. Portables are put in to accommodate the overpopulation while the district waits for new schools or additions to be approved. It is up to the Ministry of Education to approve and fund construction of schools, not the school district.

It’s a cart before horse policy that many school districts would like to see changed.

“It is numbers that drive construction,” Abbott replied.

Abbott’s first stop was at Walnut Grove Secondary where students gave a presentation of their anti-bullying program. He was then introduced to the outdoor EDGE program as well.

“I was hugely impressed with the anti-bullying program,” said Abbott.

He had lunch with Langley Board of Education where he answered questions about the promised capital funding, said school district spokesperson Sandy Wakeling, after the meeting.

“The minister is looking at creative ways to tender projects,” said Wakeling.

What that means is Langley School District will use the Lynn Fripps Elementary design as a template to build the new elementary school at 209 Street and 77 Avenue.

That way, they aren’t paying anything more for new designs.

Surrey has expressed interest in using the Lynn Fripps design as their template as well, he said. Langley may look at a Surrey design for the middle school being built at 208 Street and 84 Avenue.

Abbott visited James Hill Elementary, where he toured several classrooms and the special education room. There he was given a wish-list by teachers and then had a meeting with the Langley Teachers Association.

That was followed by a meeting with staff and teachers.

Preliminary work is already being done on both new school sites, Green said.

The geotechnical assessments and environmental testing on the sites has been done. The Board of Education has to pass a bylaw agreeing to begin construction on both sites and then “we’ll get to work,” said Green.

While the $60 million capital funding from the Ministry of Education isn’t exactly cash in hand, it doesn’t stop the district from working on both schools, he said.

In order for the Ministry to give Langley the money, the school district has to provide a “project definition report” that details how big the school will be, what will be in the school, costs and budgets.

“The ministry has our report for the elementary school but the middle school report is just in its final stages,” said Green.

The middle school is larger and will take longer to build, he said.

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