Students head into a portable classroom in Chilliwack. (Greg Laychak/Black Press file)

‘We will never get zero,’ Surrey school district staff says of portables

District expects to ‘level off’ number of portables ‘as early as 2021,’ but see an increase again by 2028

The Surrey school district says if its $1.36-billion ask for capital funding is approved, the district “should get into a position where we’re not at over-capacity district-wide.”

District staff said it will be asking the provincial government for the funding for its five-year capital plan, which broken down, is $162 million for minor capital (school enhancements, buses, playground equipment); $65 million for major capital (seismic upgrades); $94 million for replacement schools (Mountainview Montessori, Riverdale Elementary and Port Kells Elementary); $207 million for site acquisitions; $527 million for new schools; and $305 million for additions.

During a delegation to Surrey city council Monday (Jan. 13), Linda Annis asked that if the five-year plan is approved, if it would help to reduce the number of portables throughout the district.

READ ALSO: Surrey councillor calls for ‘zero tolerance approach’ to school portables, Jan. 14, 2020

Greg Frank, district secretary-treasurer, said once the projects that are currently under construction or have preliminary funding support are completed in the next two or three years, “we believe we will have leveled off.”

“As early as 2021, we should level off our number of portables and then if our capital plan is approved, we would continue to see that level of portables shrinking,” Frank told council.

However, he said, “We will never get zero. We think in a district this size, and to accommodate pockets of growth, the right number for us is probably somewhere between 150 to 190 (portables).”

If the capital plans in total are approved, Frank said, the district “should get into a position where we’re not over-capacity district-wide.”

“We’re actually slightly under district capacity, and that’s where we want to be, is to have more capacity than we actually have enrolment.”

SQUEEZING SURREY STUDENTS IN: The causes and impacts of overcrowding in city schools, June 2019

Kelly Isford-Saxon, the district’s manager of demographics and planning, said in her presentation to council the projects currently in progress “are really going to make an impact in 2023.”

“We’re hopeful that might be the sort of tipping point where we’ll reduce our demand on portables.”

But by 2028, Isford-Saxon said the district expects the need to increase once again with new construction and developments coming on.

District data shows that by 2028, 52,135 elementary students and 33,011 high school students will be enrolled in the Surrey schools. As of Sept. 30, 2019, there were 43,342 elementary students enrolled and 28,537 high school students.

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Data from Surrey school district about elementary portable projections in 2023 and 2028. (Image: Surrey school district)

READ ALSO: More than 74,000 Surrey students expected to enrol in district this year, Aug. 30, 2019

READ ALSO: Surrey school district sees highest enrolment growth in B.C., Dec. 18, 2019

Portable timeline: 1986 to 2019
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lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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