Chilliwack school district eyes two new hillside schools

District looks to build two new schools, add additions to several existing facilities and review its property holdings.

The Chilliwack school district is looking to build two new schools, add additions to several existing facilities and review its property holdings as it looks forward to the next five years.

The recommendations, approved by the board last week, are part of the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan. The plan is required by the B.C. education ministry to help school districts anticipate their capital needs over the long term.

Chilliwack, which is one of the few school districts in the province to see sustained enrollment increases over the past five years, is already experiencing pressure at several of its schools.

It’s looking to eliminate portable classrooms by building additions to Evans elementary, Sardis elementary, Watson elementary, and Promontory Heights elementary.

“These additions will accommodate existing and projected future enrolments within school buildings rather than in portables as is currently the case,” the  district says in its report to trustees.

Additions are also required at Sardis secondary and G.W. Graham middle secondary, which are both currently over capacity. G.W. Graham, which opened just six years ago, was designed to accommodate an addition, the report notes.

Additional classroom space may be required, particularly if residential development in the area picks up. However, a new school in the south end of the city is not currently on the books.

Staff recommend the district, “continue to monitor the City of Chilliwack’s development plan to determine whether a new elementary school and site are required on the south side of the district.”

That’s not the case in the Eastern Hillsides. That area, which is contained in the city’s recently approved Eastern Hillsides Comprehensive Development Plan,” will need two new schools to accommodate an expected population growth that could top 6,400 people. District staff is recommending site acquisition and the eventual construction of a kindergarten-to-Grade 6 school, as well as a kindergarten-to-Grade 9 facility.

The district is also looking at ways to make better use of its existing schools. Enrolment at A.D. Rundle, for example, has declined “significantly” and the school is currently under capacity. The district plans to review its educational programing at the school to see if there are ways to attract new students.

Change could also be coming to CHANCE Alternative School, located on an isolated plot of agricultural land on Prest Road. Recommends the report: “The district would benefit from reviewing CHANCE Alternate School to determine the appropriateness of its programming and physical placement in the district.”

The school district’s current land holdings should also be reviewed, the report said. The district owns several properties that either once held schools, or whose use could change.

For example, Fraser Valley Distance Education will be moving into the new Chilliwack Secondary School once construction is complete in 2013. The district plans to review options for the site, “including trade off of this site for other land that would be more appropriate for an elementary or elementary-middle school.”

In Rosedale, construction of a new school has left the district in a similar situation. Staff recommend the district determine if any existing programs can be located at the site vacated by Rosedale elementary. If there is none the district should consider trading the property for land that could accommodate schools for the eastern hillsides.

Determining the fate of other district-owned properties, like five acres on Richards Avenue and the former school site at Ryder Lake should wait until the City of Chilliwack completes its review of the Official Community Plan. That process is expected to be done late next year.