Below-freezing temperatures meant no ground was actually broken at the ground-breaking of Surrey’s newest elementary school in South Surrey Thursday morning, but government and school officials donned blue hard hats and posed with shovels poised, nonetheless, to mark the occasion.
“I don’t know how we’re going to dig shovels into this frozen ground, but we’ll make it look good,” Minister of Education Rob Fleming quipped as he gathered for a photo op at the site where Edgewood Drive Elementary is slated to open in September 2021.
Funding for the 655-seat school – which is to be built in the 16600-block of 23 Avenue, directly behind the City of Surrey’s new South Surrey Operations Centre – was first announced in December 2017.
At that time, it was budgeted at $24 million, however, “significant” increases to construction costs – district officials announced in November that Edgewood was among five school projects delayed by too-high bids – resulted in the tab being pushed to $33 million.
“While this budget is above what was previously approved, due to extreme construction cost escalation in 2018, government and the Surrey School District moved quickly to fund the difference to ensure students could be in their new school as soon as possible,” a news release notes.
Fleming said Thursday that some of the cost increases “are related to who’s in the White House down south and tariffs on construction products that are driving up costs.”
Labour supply is also a factor, he said.
The contract for Edgewood was awarded to DGS Construction in January.
The ground-breaking follows the recent construction launch of a 12-classroom addition at nearby Pacific Heights Elementary, as well as that underway two blocks north of the Edgewood site for a new, 1,500-seat Grandview Heights Secondary. The high school is anticipated to open in 2021, while the elementary addition is to be ready next year.
Funding in the amount of $28.95 million has also been approved for the purchase of land for a new elementary school in the Sunnyside neighbourhood.
And, work has begun on the new Maddaugh Road elementary school, a $34.1-million project that is to open to 605 Clayton-area students in 2021.
Board of Education chair Laurie Laursen said that construction on two more South Surrey schools is expected to start this spring.
The Edgewood and Pacific Heights spaces “will help ease current and future enrolment pressures on nearby Sunnyside, Rosemary Heights and Morgan elementary schools,” Laursen said.
“As you see, we’re moving forward quite rapidly now.”
Surrey currently has approximately 7,000 students learning in 335 portables.
Fleming pointed to the “backlog we inherited” from the previous government and changes in the construction market as key challenges in catching up with the school need.
“Even buying land, there was not enough sites acquired in Surrey,” he said. “We’re having to advance on multiple fronts.”
He described these efforts as “amongst the most important things that our government is working on.”
“I can see the houses just coming over the hill, so we better get on this thing real quickly,” he said of Edgewood.
“This is exactly what this community needs and deserves.”
Fleming noted that the majority of portables that were added last year were “related to the restoration of adult basic education in Surrey.”
He also noted that the combined number of seats being added by school projects currently underway or proceeding to construction “would eliminate every portable in Surrey if we could do them right now.”
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum described Thursday’s ground-breaking as “really good news,” and said Edgewood “lies at the heart of what we mean by smart development.”
Thursday’s ground-breaking was held immediately following a ‘summit’ meeting that took place between Fleming, Surrey council members and Board of Education trustees at the operations centre.