Chilliwack aims high in school funding request

School district says the money is badly needed to accommodate students currently housed in 93 portable classrooms

The Chilliwack school district is looking for nearly $76 million next year to fund new school construction, buy land, and build additions to existing schools to cope with the city’s growing student population.

The money is part of the district’s five-year capital plan – a $296 million wish list that tells the education ministry what Chilliwack will need to accommodate its soaring enrolment.

That’s a big number, agreed acting board chair Walt Krahn. But it’s justified.

“I am delighted that we are asking for a great deal,” he said.

“We need it.”

There are already 93 portable classrooms in use in Chilliwack. Five additional units were purchased this year, said the district’s secretary treasurer Gerry Slykhuis. At some schools the number of portables threatens to exceed the number of actual classrooms.

Slykhuis said the ministry is aware of the situation. “They are agreeing that we are worse off than Surrey,” he told trustee’s at the district board meeting Tuesday. “We definitely do have a good case for more space.”

Topping the list for 2019/20 is $12.8 million for the new southside area school on Tyson Road. The money is part of the $53.6 million the district says it will need to complete the school, which will accommodate students from kindergarten to Grade 8.

The district has already bought the land and is confident funding will be approved shortly.

Second on the list is money for a new northside middle school. Slykhuis told trustees that the funds are being asked for now because there is a possibility land might become available. If not, the district would revert to a second plan the following year to buy land for a new northside middle school. That school would accommodate students from Chilliwack Middle School, as the CMS property is folded into an expanded two-campus Chilliwack Secondary School.

The rationale for that, Slykhuis said, is that it is easier to find land to accommodate a middle school than it is to find land for another northside secondary school.

(Before any of that would happen, Slykhuis said, much consultation would take place.)

The challenge Chilliwack faces is that much of the land in the district is locked in the Agricultural Land Reserve. That makes it difficult to assemble the large swaths needed for a school.

Instead, the district is looking at school expansion rather than new school construction.

Third on the district’s wish list for next year is $13 million to expand GW Graham to accommodate 400 students.

An expansion of Cheam Elementary – home to the district’s growing early French immersion program, as well as seven portables – is No. 4.

Rounding out priorities for 2019/20 is an addition to Sardis secondary to accommodate 400 students.

That’s not all the money the district is asking for. In addition, it’s seeking another $5 million next year for things like mechanical upgrades, building envelope improvements and playground enhancements.

Trustees unanimously approved the five-year capital plan. They’ll find out next April which – if any – gain ministerial approval.

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