Wait and see for Burke Mountain schools
Schools in the new Burke Mountain neighbourhoods are being readied to handle an influx of students while School District 43 works to convince the B.C. Ministry of Education to provide money for new schools.
Although hundreds of homes are being built in the area, no money has been approved for an elementary school, which is an immediate priority, or a high school, for which land has already been purchased.
"We're starting to see more students from this area," said Carey Chute, SD43's principal of facilities initiatives. But while the district is in regular contact with the ministry, enrolment is not yet high enough to justify a new school, according to ministry standards.
"[Enrolment] has picked up again with the economy rebounding a bit, you're starting to see development unfold. We're trying to keep track of it closely," Chute said.
The concern is that by the time a school is approved and built, enrolment will have continued to climb, resulting in a space crunch. There may have to be portables to handle the extra load, as there is in high-growth areas in Surrey, for example.
But for now, according Chute, there is enough capacity to handle students from kindergarten to Grade 12 at Leigh, Irvine and Coquitlam River elementary schools, Kwayhquitlum and Minnekhada middle schools and Terry Fox secondary.
Still, some people don't think the pace of school construction is quick enough. On Tuesday, members of SD43's Student Leadership Council said the district is having to play "catch-up." SLC presenters Sasha Maleki and Sebastian Zein cited figures of 1,978 students living in 1,319 new homes without a new school to attend.
The district disputes those figures, Chute said, because even in an area with a lot of secondary suites, which is the case on Burke Mountain, the number would be significantly smaller — as much as two-thirds less based on experienced and so-called yield rates. Most districts see only about one student for every two single-family homes, according to SD43.
Even so, schools are needed and the district is working on getting them built, Chute said. Planning is underway for both an elementary school and a secondary school for Burke Mountain. Land has already been set aside for a new Burke Mountain secondary.
• To help families and realtors understand the school planning process and get details about their closest school, a Planning for Burke Mountain bulletin is available on the SD43 website (www.sd43.bc.ca).
Members of the SD43 Student Leadership Council are also raising concerns about Minnekhada middle school, which its principal disputes.
In their brief to the board, Sasha Maleki and Sebastian Zein said they've heard complaints about conditions being unsafe, unsanitary and not conducive to learning at the Port Coquitlam middle school .
Principal Darren Macmillan said he was surprised by the students' complaints because efforts have recently been undertaken to make the school more comfortable and safe. Window breakage is down, Macmillan said, an ant problem was cleaned up last year and is being monitored, old blinds were replaced throughout the school and heating problems were addressed with a new system.
"We feel like things are cleaned up, things are doing really well," Macmillan said, adding he will investigate the students' complaints to see if there are any other issues. In the meantime, the school has been working with Vandal Watch to cut down on vandalism, which spiked for a few weeks over the winter.