Portable classrooms have already been moved in behind the yet-to-open Yorkson middle school. The school is set to open in September and is already over capacity.

Langley School District considers busing out slope students

School problems will get worse predicts trustee Alison McVeigh

Because of the population explosion on the Willoughby slope and the lack of  schools to house incoming students, Langley School District will be going to the public.

The district will ask people to consider relocating students to other district schools, including D.W. Poppy Secondary and Langley Secondary.

At the Tuesday board of education meeting, secretary-treasurer David Green said the District Leadership Team is offering several proposals about all secondary schools in Langley, including what to do with ones that are seeing a declining enrolment like Langley Secondary, Poppy and Aldergrove Community Secondary.

A public consultation process will be undertaken in the fall to explore all options, in the absence of provincial funding for a new high school in Willoughby. The consultation will ask for feedback and ideas from the public.

Green said the Willoughby slope schools are experiencing significant pressure, with all of them over capacity, and the need is only growing.

Every K-5 elementary school in Willoughby will be over capacity in September.

R.E. Mountain Secondary has a capacity for 725 students but currently has a population of 1,125.

There are 16 portables on the school grounds.

In order to house an additional 400 to 500 students in the next 10 years, another 13 to 16 portables would be required.

The physical site cannot accommodate that many portables, said Green.

Meanwhile, a letter is going home to all parents in Willoughby this month explaining new, tightened rules around who is eligible to attend the new Yorkson Creek Middle School. Because it will open in September above capacity, only those in the catchment are allowed to attend. There will also be new rules around keeping a child in that school if the family moves from the area after.

All of this built-up pressure could have been remedied by the ministry of education approving new funding for a high school. But approval for that hasn’t come and it is doubtful it will come in time to handle the influx of new students, said Green.

Building a high school takes up to 48 months, meaning a new school would not open any earlier than 2018. But now the government is saying it would look at projects more kindly if the district was willing to put in 50 per cent or more of the costs.

It’s a scenario no school district can afford.

In the meantime, major changes need to happen at Langley Secondary.

Enrolment has declined significantly over the past several years, and the aging facility is need of $38 million in seismic and service upgrades.

Green points out the costs to upgrade the facility are almost the same as building a new school.

That will be one of the proposals brought to the public.

The district could look at building a new, smaller high school on five acres of the 18-acre site, and selling off the remainder to developers.

Green said the board needs to be reminded that the ministry of education looks at all the excess capacity at schools like LSS and Aldergrove as a deterrent to funding a new high school, believing those sites should be better utilized first.

The idea of relocating Willoughby students to those sites will help fill those schools up, said Green.

“I’m very disappointed we haven’t got funding for a new high school.

“We put forward a compelling case to the ministry,” said deputy board chair Rob McFarlane.

“Sending slope students to further distances to go to school at Poppy or Aldergrove is a concern.”

Trustee Cecilia Reekie said she no longer remains hopeful funding will come for a new school.

“As we move forward, it is critical we consult with the community.

“But let’s look at what other districts are doing and think outside the box.”

Trustee Alison McVeigh said she is concerned for the children living in Willoughby.

“It is going to get worse before it gets better in Willoughby,” she said.

“The need will not go away. We need to keep advocating for a new school there and parents need to keep pressing for it too.”

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