The fee Chilliwack developers pay to contribute to buying new school sites is set to increase by 24 per cent if a school district plan is approved.
At their Oct. 1 meeting, school board trustees approved a resolution to move forward with the plan to increase School Site Acquisition Charges (SSAC) from the current base rate of $646 per residential unit to $800, the maximum allowable unit charge, according to provincial guidelines.
Similar to Development Cost Charges (DCCs) developers pay to municipalities, SSACs are one-time development charges to contribute to the need for new schools created by development.
With an estimated 3,407 increase in enrolment over the next decade, the district will need three new school sites at an estimated land cost of $29.7 million at current market values.
A consultant’s report on school sites was presented to the board at the Oct. 1 meeting. In the report, projections show an estimated 17,500 students in the Chilliwack school district in 2029 up from approximately 13,580 today.
An estimated 9,154 new development units are forecast to be built in the school district area over the next decade, which will be home to more than 4,000 school-aged children.
Over the past four years, the district brought in an average of $538,000 in SSACs per year. The move to increase from $646 to $800 per dwelling unit would bump that up by an estimated $194,320 annually.
Board members heard that ideally the SSAC rate would be $1,015 to help properly fund the portion of needed schools projected, but $800 is the most allowed under legislation.
“This will help but this isn’t going to do it for us,” secretary-treasurer Gerry Slykhuis said at the meeting.
The district currently has $3 million in its land purchasing account.
Slykhuis explained that SSACs are the cost of doing business for developers, and that Chilliwack’s rates have been unchanged for more than a decade.
Some trustees had questions about what levels of government should be paying for new schools, but Slykhuis said that the main stumbling block to new schools is not money, it’s land.
“Funding isn’t the problem,” he said. “The problem in Chilliwack is there is no land to build on. Everything is in the [Agricultural Land Reserve] or tied up. The city has worked hard with us to identify [properties]. Access to a flat piece of at least five acres to build a school on is our problem.”
At land cost of $3.2 million per hectare, it’s estimated a new east side elementary school property would cost $10.4 million, a new Promontory middle school property would cost $12.9 million, and a south side elementary school, $6.5 million. Those are the three top new school site priorities.
Acting superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam also gave the board an enrolment update for this school year at Tuesday’s meeting. For the first time ever, enrolment topped 13,000. At 13,158, that’s up 228 students or 1.75 per cent over the 12,930 in 2018. There were 12,590 in 2017 and 12,340 in 2016.
Chilliwack is one of the few districts that continues to grow in enrolment year after year.
The board resolution at the Oct. 1 meeting is the next step in a process of increasing SSACs. The next step involves consultation by city hall with the development community followed by inclusion in the school disrict’s capital plan followed by review by the Ministry of Education.
As part of the report presented to council, the top 13 district priorities were laid out:
1. Northside Middle/Secondary Renovations plus Gym Expansion
2. G.W. Graham Secondary Addition
3. Vedder Elementary Addition
4. Cheam Elementary Addition
5. Sardis Secondary Addition plus Gymnasium
6. Land Purchase for New East Side Elementary – 8 acres (3.24ha)
7. New East Side Chilliwack Elementary
8. Vedder Middle School Addition
9. Sardis Elementary Addition
10. Watson Elementary Addition
11. Cultus Lake Elementary Addition
12. Land Purchase for New South Side Elementary School – 5 acres (2.02ha)
13. Land Purchase for New Promontory Middle School – 10 acres (4.05ha)