COLUMN: Retiring school portables in Surrey is a hollow promise

Wheels of government move slow – an ominous sign for the next generation of students

There is a new council in place in Surrey but it continues to approve reams of new developments, just like its predecessor.

However, school construction has almost ground to a halt.

While Education Minister Rob Fleming and Premier John Horgan have made a lot of noises about ensuring Surrey gets funds for new schools more quickly, endless delays in actually building new schools is what is happening on the ground.

Five school projects have been delayed because of high construction costs, and others are lining up behind them. Bids to build the new schools came in too high, and the province has been slow to realize that fact. The school district is unable to proceed because the province will not allow it to exceed each project’s capital budget.

Three of the five projects in limbo are in the Grandview area, which probably has more residential construction underway than any other area of Surrey. One of them is for an addition to Pacific Heights Elementary, while the other two are for new schools. A fourth projects is also in South Surrey, in the Douglas area near the international border, where there are currently no schools at all. The fifth is in Clayton, where council is busy approving a raft of new development.

One of the Grandview projects facing delay is a new high school, which is badly needed to relieve pressure on South Surrey high schools. It was first approved by the province on Oct. 10, 2016 – more than two years ago – and secondary schools take far longer to build than elementaries.

The Clayton school was approved by the province on Oct. 7, 2016 and was supposed to open next September; it has now gone back out to tender. The addition to Pacific Heights has also gone back out to tender.

That the wheels of government bureaucracy move so slowly is an ominous sign for Surrey’s future – and for the coming generations of students.

A report to Surrey council notes that new construction in Surrey and White Rock are expected to add more than 44,000 residents in the next 10 years. That number actually sounds low, when compared to the recent pace of growth.

However, the district anticipates that, of those 44,000, more than 11,000 will be school-aged children. Its capital plan calls for seven new school sites and one school expansion over that time frame. That seems to be minimal. If a new elementary school houses 800 students, seven would house 5,600 – about half of the number of new students expected.

The reality is this. Surrey is growing at far too fast a pace for the district and province to keep up with school requirements. Portable classrooms will be in place for generations, at this fast pace of growth and glacial pace of school construction.

Promises by the province to reduce or eliminate portable classrooms in Surrey, and keep up with growth, are proving to be hollow.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.

frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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