Chilliwack students will be going back to smaller classrooms in September, but some of those classrooms will be in creative places.
School administrators have been tasked with auditing their buildings for all available classroom space, identifying areas that could be converted to classrooms. In total, 37 new classrooms are needed to accomodate both the new, smaller class sizes, and continued growth in enrolment.
In some schools, finding new space will mean even more portables. In other schools, it will mean saying goodbye to long-running, in-school daycare operations.
Music and computer rooms are also getting squeezed out at some schools, while others will simply fill currently unused rooms. At one school, a wide hallway is being eyed as a potential new room, with the addition of a temporary wall.
In a presentation to the school board on Monday night (May 9), school district staff pointed out that these cramped conditions will be only for the upcoming year. The following September, in 2018, the district is hoping to reconfigure schools to end elementary at Grade 5. That could move about 1,000 students out of the elementary sites into the middle schools.
The changes will help the school district conform to the restored class size and composition contract language from 2002, as required by an earlier Supreme Court decision. Capital costs alone for the change is estimated at $1,753,000 in Chilliwack. The Ministry of Education has instructed school districts to focus on immediate needs.
But it may not be that easy. At Monday’s meeting, secretary treasurer Gerry Slykhuis noted that ordering portables is not a fast process, and that they may not all arrive in time for September.
Some of the current space issues within the Chilliwack School District could eventually be alleviated in time. An $6.5 million addition at Promontory elementary will add 200 student spaces next April, and the board recently purchased a 12 acre site along the Vedder River as a potential site for a new school.
And, in September 2018 when Grade 6 classes move to middle schools, even more space will free up.
But in the meantime, smaller classes will mean fewer non-traditional rooms across the district.
•Related story: New teachers to cost Chilliwack about $8.7 million