Opinion

Poor communication on Willoughby schools

Willoughby parents have every right to be upset with both the Langley School District and the Township of Langley, for the poor way in which they were informed that a school site on 70 Avenue had been sold to a private developer, as part of a land exchange.

As school district communications manager Craig Spence notes, land swaps are routine in growing areas of communities. In this case, the school district wanted to obtain another site in the Yorkson area, which is set to soon have thousands more residents. The new Lynn Fripps Elementary will be built on 83 Avenue east of 208 Street, and the new site it has obtained will be west of 208 Street on 84 Avenue.

Obtaining a new site west of 208 Street is logical, given that it will be almost impossible to cross 208 Street unless there is a traffic light in place. In addition, the density of housing now being built west of 208 Street ensures that there will be hundreds of students there within a few years.

The school district announced the land swap on its website last month. It did not publish an advertisement making the announcement, nor did it make any attempt to contact residents in the area where the former school site was located. In an amazingly fast turnaround, rezoning of the land is already well underway. A public hearing had been scheduled for Monday night. It was delayed due to the controversy.

Why is this land swap important? Many of the people who bought homes near the 70 Avenue site were told by real estate sales people and others that a school was planned for the area. The fact that the school district owned the property was well-known. Many of these homebuyers have young families.

The school district is counting on students from this area going to Langley Meadows Elementary, which is already crowded. R.C. Garnett Elementary, east of 200 Street, is filled to the rafters, and the next closest school is Willoughby Elementary, at 208 Street and 80 Avenue.

The Township also shares some blame for the lack of communication, and for its inattention to the school issue. The report recommending that townhouses be allowed on the former school site concedes that there is a lack of school space for students in the area. If that is the case, why is any proposal to build new homes being considered? The Township should be working with the school district and lobbying MLAs for additional schools in all the fast-growing areas of Willoughby, not just one of them.

This is a repeat of the scenario from last fall, when parents in the Garnett area lobbied and successfully convinced council to turn down higher-density housing for a site at 200 Street and 68 Avenue. In that case, the Township report astonishly suggested there was still space at Garnett — a fiction that could easily have been corrected had a planner bothered to make the six-block drive from the Township hall to Garnett.

Willoughby is the fastest-growing area of Langley Township, and as such it needs a full range of community services. The Township has done an excellent job in providing a library, two community recreation areas, playing fields and the Langley Events Centre. However, the community cannot be considered complete without sufficient schools. All governments involved (including the province)must hang their heads in shame.

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