Surrey looks at ways to alleviate growing enrolment in the district.

Surrey looks at ways to alleviate growing enrolment in the district.

P3 proposed as an option for building Surrey schools

City offers possible school funding solutions to help with growing enrolment

The City of Surrey is suggesting a Public-Private Partnership (P3) to build schools may help alleviate the ballooning enrolment pressure in Surrey.

With the predicted 1,000-plus new students entering the district every year expected to continue, Jean Lamontagne, General Manager of Planning and Development, presented a report to council on Oct. 3 outlining various capital funding options in order to build the estimated 2,900 spaces needed in the high-growth areas of Surrey. He suggested the mayor forward a letter to the Minister of Education to consider new funding options in Surrey.

Lamontagne also suggests that where current funding applications are often presented to the province once a school reaches 95 per cent capacity, in high-growth areas this application process could begin when a school reaches 60 per cent capacity and when that number is expected to rise to 100 per cent by the time the school is built, rather than wait until the students actually arrive.

The P3 model would allow for the private sector to design, build, finance and operate schools within a specific contracted time frame, after which the province would then have the option of purchasing the asset or not.

Based on enrollment numbers, the sites could then remain schools or reconsidered for re-development by the private sector.

For Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, two things need to happen when it comes to funding new schools in high-growth areas of the city and P3s shouldn’t be the only focus.

“We know where the growth is happening so it’s really at what point do we trigger that land banking and the construction of new schools, and if financing is an option, that there are other avenues that are available and examples around the world that they have done things differently,” she said.

P3s are not something that the district is looking to entertain, said Surrey Board of Education Chair Shawn Wilson.

“We are philosophically opposed to P3s for construction of schools, that isn’t something we would even consider,” said Wilson. “We’re not in the habit of renting schools.”

For Cindy Dalglish, with Surrey Students Now, the P3 idea is a slippery slope heading towards privatization.

“We can’t let the province off the hook for providing adequate and stable funding for education in this city,” she said.

“It’s a desperate option that I hope is one that is completely ignored, that’s a vehement no from me.”

As for Mayor Hepner, having the conversation and finding solutions is really the most important aspect of the report.

“I know that isn’t popular (P3s) and it may never come to fruition. But it was something that started the conversation and the minister is open to taking a look at what a made-in-Surrey solution would look like.”

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