The Chilliwack School District desperately needs a new elementary school, according to a staff report laid out for the board on Tuesday.
There are 404 new students in the district this year, mostly in primary grades. That’s enough to fill an average-sized elementary school — if only Chilliwack had an empty one.
The opposite is true. Chilliwack’s schools are bursting at the seams, with about 70 portables in use across the district.
The new students are spread across town, but the most striking growth is at sites on the south side, where schools were already at a critical breaking point. New home construction has been steady in south side neighbourhoods, including Promontory, Garrison and Peach Road, and the growth is showing no signs of abating. Chilliwack is expected to reach 100,000 residents by 2021, according to the city’s official community plan.
The school district’s secretary treasurer, Gerry Slykhuis, said populations are booming across the Fraser Valley, and that trickles down to the school level.
Having a bolstered student population is generally a good news story, as each student equals more funding from the government. But that money is directed to operational costs.
For capital projects, there is a different funding process. And it’s one that’s been held up for a few years, as the province reviewed capital plans.
“We don’t know yet if there’s any money for new schools,” said Slykhuis. But the board is writing to the ministry of education to plead their case in support of a new school.
Where that school would be built remains a bit unclear yet. Slykhuis said the ideal plan would have been Promontory.
“That would be ideal, but if you could find 10 flat acres up there for under a billion dollars…,” he said. And expanding Promontory wouldn’t work either, he said. There already is limited field space at the hillside school.
So, the search is on for a suitable site. As the school district appeals to the ministry, they are also searching out plots of land. The plan is called Peach Road elementary, but Slykhuis notes that’s just a placeholder name.
“We’re essentially looking for something on the south side, but there really isn’t a whole lot of land available, really, there’s next to nothing,” he said.
While talks of a new school in Sardis have been in the works for a while, the time to act is now.
“We’re pretty desperate for new space in the south of Chilliwack,” Slykhuis said.
Schools across Chilliwack are getting a bit of a student bonus, as the board voted in favour of splitting a surplus among them.
Each school will receive a $50 bonus per FTE student, for a total of $600,000 district wide.
Slykhuis said the district is leaving the decision of where to allocate that funding up to the administration at each school.
The money was held in reserve from a one-time funding last year from the ministry. With enrolment up, “we felt could safely release this now,” he added.