Opinion: The numbers show the need for new school construction in Chilliwack

Chilliwack's school population has grown by 3.2 per cent this year, underlining the urgency for new school construction.

There are currently seven portables at Promontory elementary school.

There are currently seven portables at Promontory elementary school.

Enrolment numbers released by the province this week offer a dramatic illustration of Chilliwack’s growth.

The Chilliwack school district welcomed 417 new students this year – the sixth-largest enrolment growth in the province.

Ahead of it were school districts like Surrey (993), Langley (697) and Abbotsford (484).

But those figures tell only half the story. In terms of a percentage increase, Chilliwack is the fastest growing in the Lower Mainland.

The additional students squeezed into Chilliwack schools this fall represent a 3.2 per cent increase over last year’s enrolment.

Compare that to Abbotsford’s 2.5 per cent growth, or Surrey’s 1.4 per cent.

Overall, there were 5,676 new students in British Columbian schools this fall – a result, said the education ministry, attributable to the province’s strong economy.

That strength, it said, has enabled the province to shake loose another $46.7 million to help school districts deal with the growth.

The money comes through the province’s per pupil grants, which will grow to $8,969 per student in this school year.

Not all school districts are seeing that growth. In fact, 18 will see declines and 14 will remain relatively stable.

Chilliwack was not one of them. This school district has seen consistent growth over the years. Now, with the accelerated development that’s taking place in the community, the pressure being put on local schools is acute.

The per-pupil funding from the province will no doubt be welcomed by the Chilliwack school district.

But clearly that is only part of the province’s obligation.

It must also invest in capital construction in Chilliwack to help the school district accommodate all its students. That means new school construction – or at the very least expansion – in the city’s growing south side.

Money has been found for other school districts, most notably Surrey. It is time the province recognize the urgent need in Chilliwack and step forward so our growing school population has a suitable environment in which to learn.