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Overcrowding is the future for schools in Willoughby, Walnut Grove

Hugh Skinner, a consultant working on the school district’s long-term facilities plan, spoke to Willoughby parents about the overcrowding in the area. - Monique Tamminga/Langley Times
Hugh Skinner, a consultant working on the school district’s long-term facilities plan, spoke to Willoughby parents about the overcrowding in the area.
— image credit: Monique Tamminga/Langley Times

Mountain Secondary is bursting at the seams, with 11 portables and three more on the way.

Even with the new middle school coming to Willoughby in 2014, it may not relieve the pressure because more families are choosing to move to the area, said Hugh Skinner, of GHMA Architects, the consultant hired to create Langley School District’s Long Term Facilities Plan.

It’s somewhat like shuffling  the deck chairs on the Titanic, with Langley School District reconfiguring elementary schools and building a middle school to relieve pressure on an exploding school population in the Willoughby and Walnut Grove area. All this is happening while other areas of Langley see declining enrolment.

On top of that, one in five students in Langley are selecting choice schooling — fundamental, French immersion and fine arts — and all have long waiting lists, said Skinner.

Around 40 parents came out to Mountain Secondary’s library on a rainy Tuesday night to give their input into where they would like schools built in the future and what priorities they have in seeing the best in education for their children.

It was the last of the district’s six community meetings.

There will be 17 schools in the Willoughby area in the future. Langley will need up to 10 new elementary schools, four middle schools and a new high school over the next 15 years — most of them in the Willoughby area.

The results of all the community input will be presented to the Langley Board of Education by the end of the school year, said Skinner, who spoke about enrolment projections and neighbourhood development.

Skinner told the crowd that his firm has had several meetings with the Township about upcoming development in Willoughby.

“Ten years ago, Willoughby was relatively undeveloped,” said Skinner. The Township told him the Gordon neighbourhood, just east of R.C. Garnett, is being developed and soon the Carvolth neighbourhood (by the 200 Street interchange) will have housing.

But it’s the Latimer neighbourhood, combined with the Clayton area of Surrey (west and east of 200 Street in the 80 Avenue area) that will see a huge population growth in the distant future with dense housing, said Skinner.

“It’s one of the last big tracts of land in Metro Vancouver that isn’t developed,” he said. “Relative to affordability and families wanting to move here, the trend is for upward enrolment.”

Walnut Grove Secondary is one of the largest schools in the province, said Skinner. But Mountain isn’t too far behind. Many parents questioned why a middle school would be built with a capacity of 750, when the district already knows it will be over that when it opens.

Board chair Wendy Johnson explained that the Ministry of Education approves capital funding for a school at a certain size and if Langley fights the numbers, the province will just give the money to the next community with their hand out.

The ministry controls when and, to some extent, where schools are built in a district. According to Skinner, Langley is behind in schools. Parents of R.C. Garnett and Langley Meadows who attended the meeting agreed, saying they don’t understand why another elementary school isn’t built on the slope when the area has so many children and more are coming.

Other parents wanted to see equity of resources, like books and computers, provided to schools across the district, not based on how much an individual PAC can pay for. Others wanted to make sure special education is a priority and some wanted to see an expansion of Mountain’s honours (International Baccalaureate) program into other schools.

There’s still time for residents to have a say. They can go to sd35.bc.ca and click on long term facilities plan to email your comments.

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