Opinion: A pitch for new schools in Chilliwack

If the province is looking for a place to spend its larger-than-expected surplus, SD33 might have a suggestion.

As the provincial government crowed this week about the size of this year’s expected surplus, let’s hope our Chilliwack MLAs were suggesting where some of that money could be spent.

On Thursday Finance Minister Mike de Jong revealed the projected surplus this year has grown to $1.94 billion from a budgeted $264 million.

Not only that, said de Jong, the annual surplus for the next two years will hover around the $900 million mark.

This is all great news for the fiscal conservatives; the money will help pay down the provincial debt, making B.C. one of the few debt-free provinces by 2020.

However, students crowding into Chilliwack schools this fall may question that math.

Chilliwack is expected to enrol an additional 300 students this year, and the school district has run out of places to put them.

Board chair Silvia Dyck has called the situation “critical” with more than half the schools beyond 100 per cent capacity.

“In the last five years,” she told The Progress in August, “Chilliwack School District has seen a steady increase in K-12 enrollment with a projected percentage increase of 2.5 per cent for September 2016, which for Chilliwack SD may mean 300 new students.”

Despite the steady growth, Chilliwack has seen only one new school built in the last decade, GW Graham. Yes, Chilliwack has benefited from school construction; Chilliwack secondary, Rosedale and Yarrow are fine facilities, but they were replacements.

What Chilliwack needs – particularly in the south side – is new school construction, or at least expansion.

Ironically, this year’s provincial surplus is largely attributable to the red hot real estate market and the Property Transfer Tax. The windfall from that tax is now forecast at $2.1 billion – an increase of $965 million over the budget.

With the torrid pace of development taking place in Chilliwack, some of that tax revenue is being generated here.

Maybe our MLAs could suggest that a portion of those funds be spent providing classroom space for the new students arriving in the community.