View From SD73: Crunch time in our schools

Based on current enrolment and future projections, the school district is expected to serve between 15,000 and 15,700 students per year for the next 15 years.

While those numbers are still well below the 17,659 students that were enrolled in 1997, they are also greater than the district’s lowest enrollment of 13,800 in 2014.

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Why, then, is there a space crunch in urban Kamloops-Thompson schools?

Well, it is a combination of increasing enrolment through in-migration from the Lower Mainland, a trend toward urbanization and the requirement for 90 additional classrooms as a result of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in November 2016 that restored 2002 levels of class size and composition. Since the ruling, which outlined the maximum number of students that could be placed in a particular classroom, SD73 has utilized almost all surplus space in its Kamloops schools.

According to the long range facilities plan, an estimated 37 classrooms will be required in the next five years to accommodate enrollment projections.

While adding portables, changing catchment areas and re-opening schools may be a quick short-term solution for elementary schools, the same strategy doesn’t necessarily apply to secondary schools.

The capacity of Kamloops’ South Shore high schools is over 100 per cent and will continue to be unless badly needed capital projects are funded by the province.

At 95 per cent capacity, South Kamloops secondary has limited space available and may be called on to relieve the pressure at Valleyview secondary and Sa-Hali secondary as those schools approach 1,000 students. But if the government fails to approve the requested capital project funding for Valleyview, a catchment change will not solve the long-term pressure forecasted for the school, which is estimated to rise to a whopping 183 per cent capacity by 2028.

That would mean five more portables at Valleyview, bringing the total to 14.

Sure, all students will have classroom space, but there will be less gym time, less time in specialized classes like shop and science labs, inadequate locker space and washrooms, elimination of learning resource rooms, overflowing parking lots and packed hallways.

It has been a long time since the district has seen a new school built or had renovations done in an older building.

(More than 19 years to be precise, since Pacific Way elementary was built. There was an investment in infrastructure for the specialty trade programing at NorKam secondary in 2015, but not recently for classrooms and schools — the kind of investment that makes a difference for the majority of students and families.)

It’s no surprise Valleyview remains at the top of the district’s capital plan this year, at a cost of $24 million.

Next on the list is an expansion at Westmount elementary at a cost of $8 million. The change to the David Thompson elementary catchment area and the re-opening of Westsyde elementary will not relieve the pressure at Westmont.

The Pineview Valley area above continues to grow and a new school there will take pressure off other schools, including McGowan elementary and Dufferin elementary. The price tag for a new school is $18 million.

Also on the list is expansion and renovation at South Kamloops secondary, one of the oldest buildings in the district. The school needs to be replaced entirely, but its life can be extended with additional classroom space and a new gymnasium and washroom facilities. Replacing South Kam would cost more than $50 million, but renovations will cost less than $20 million.

Education Minister Rob Fleming alluded to good news coming for the district in the new year. Let’s see if 2019 brings some long-term resolution to the space challenges we’ve been addressing as best we can.

Let’s hope there’s a significant investment soon. Our students, parents and staff deserve modern facilities in which they can teach, learn and grow. It’s our turn.

Diana Skoglund is communications manager for the Kamloops-Thompson school district. Columns from the school district appear monthly in the print edition of KTW and online at kamloopsthisweek.com, under the Opinion tab.
Skoglund can be reached by email at dskoglund@sd73.bc.ca. To comment on this column, email editor@kamloopsthisweek.com.

© Kamloops This Week

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