It’s no secret that many Chilliwack schools are overcrowded, but the district took one step this week towards its long-term vision towards school expansion.
While Rosedale Elementary operated at a location on McGrath Road for 97 years closing in 2011 and later demolished due to seismic issues and asbestos, a plan is in the works to build a new school on the site.
One glitch is that back when the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was created in 1972, with a broad stroke many schools in rural areas were included. That means School District 33 has to apply to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to permit non-farm use in the ALR for a new school.
All ALR applications go through city council, which forwarded the district’s application on to the ALC “with support” at its Tuesday meeting.
In the staff report presented to city council, it was explained that while the school property may be in the ALR, it existed and operated as a school for 58 years before the ALR even existed.
“In addition, the applicant has indicated that no agricultural improvements have been made to the site as no farming operations have historically taken place on the property,” according to the staff report. “Furthermore, the applicant notes that the Chilliwack School District has outgrown its current facilities and rebuilding an elementary school on the property would help alleviate overcrowding that is taking place.”
Building a new Rosedale Elementary is not something yet approved for funding by the Ministry of Education, but it’s priority nine on the current draft of the district’s five-year capital plan.
But staff are confident funding will continue to flow for its school expansion program.
“We have more portables per student than any where else in B.C.,” secretary-treasurer Gerry Slykhuis explained. “We are worse than Surrey. The government has recognized that.”
This year the district added 500 new students a number that, if it continues, will outpace the supply created by the number one priority on the list: the new K-8 school slated for Tyson Road near the Vedder River.
Education Minister Rob Fleming was in Chilliwack in September to announce the $48.6 million for that school. Construction is set to begin next October and ready for students by September 2022.
So what else is on the district’s priority list? A new northside middle school is up there, with one option seeing Chilliwack Middle School (CMS) to an as-of-yet undetermined location, and Chilliwack Secondary School using the current CMS as a second campus.
Number three, four and five on the priority list is additions to G.W. Graham Secondary, Cheam Elementary and Sardis Secondary.
Cheam is the school at the highest operating capacity in the district. Running at 225 per cent, there are more students learning in portables than inside the main building.
The need for a new Rosedale Elementary is clear. The east side elementary capacity, including four schools: East Chilliwack, F.G. Leary, Cheam and Rosedale Elementary/Middle, are at a total of 117 per cent capacity.
Slykhuis said that while the additions are up there on the priority list, building new schools would be better.
“Ideally we could just build more schools but finding buildable land is really difficult here,” he said.
A presentation on school expansion will be coming at the January meeting of the school board.