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School district 'hopeful' as capital plan moves forward

The Ministry of Education has placed $56 million of capital plan projects in Chilliwack's school district on "high priority." However, there is no guarantee these will be funded.

The ministry approved the Chilliwack school board's five-year capital plan in its entirety, the board announced at a meeting Tuesday.

The plan is to replace mobile classrooms with additions worth a total of $20 million at Promontory Heights Elementary, Sardis Elementary, GW Graham Secondary, Watson Elementary, and Evans Elementary.

Vedder Middle School and Tyson Elementary are in the plan to receive mechanical and energy upgrades, at about $1 million each.

The district plans to construct two brand new schools in the Eastern Hillsides, at a budget of $32 million. One will be a kindergarten to Grade 6 school, and the other a kindergarten to Grade 9 school.

The plan also allows for replacing two school buses.

This is the first time since 2010 that the ministry of education has requested capital long-term facility plans. And even though the district submitted a plan in 2010, there was little expectation of it being funded, because the ministry was not spending capital dollars in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, finance director James Richards explained.

The board sees the ministry's acceptance of the current five-year plan as a "positive and hopeful" development, said superintendent Evelyn Novak.

"We are one of the only districts in B. C. that is growing in enrollment," said Novak. "Space is a concern for our board because of the numbers of students in our schools."

The school board estimates that 616 new students will enroll by the 2017/18 school year. By 2026, the expectation is 2,500 new students. Most of the growth comes from people moving to the area, drawn by a strong economy and relatively low housing prices.

"Something will have to give at some point, because we can't just keep adding portables at these schools," said Richards.

The ministry will prioritize all the high priority projects across the province, to come up with a final list.

"We don't know where (Chilliwack's capital plan requests) are going to fall once all that is done," said Richards.

"Now we wait," said Novak.

akonevski@theprogress.com
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