Tri-City News

UPDATED: Coquitlam district eyes new schools in Burke Mountain

School District 43 has acquired property on Burke Mountain for a secondary school but still needs land for elementary schools, which are a priority. - FILE PHOTO
School District 43 has acquired property on Burke Mountain for a secondary school but still needs land for elementary schools, which are a priority.
— image credit: FILE PHOTO

Homeowners are not the only ones shopping for property on Burke Mountain as the new Coquitlam community of 25,000 to 30,000 people begins to take shape.

School District 43 is also in the market and will have to start acquiring land to accommodate thousands of school-aged children who are moving into new homes in the rapidly growing area and last week revealed that three new elementary schools are among the top priorities.

But land has only been acquired so far for a secondary school whose construction is far in the future, according to a list of priorities presented to the board of education last Tuesday.

According to the report, a new Smiling Creek elementary could open by 2016, followed by Partington Creek elementary in 2021, the new Burke Mountain secondary in 2023, then another new elementary school (on Marigold Street in the Partington Creek neighbourhood) before the final instalment, a 600-student middle school in 2026.

In all, between 2,594 and 3,100 students could be moving into the area in the next 15 to 20 years, according to projections, adding between 8% and 10% to the district's current enrolment of about 30,000 students.

A school district facilities planner said the timelines are all dependent on funding and a report is being sent to the Ministry of Education now in the hopes of securing money to plan Smiling Creek elementary in 2014, with construction to follow in 2015 and 2016. Some of the dates could also change depending on the pace of development, said Ivano Cecchini.

But Cecchini said some of the projections are based on a surge in projected enrolment numbers because new families are moving into secondary suites at a faster pace than expected.

"Our yield rates [the number of students per unit] are expected to be slightly higher than for other parts of Coquitlam," he said.

HIGH PRIORITY

Getting a new elementary school built in the area as soon as possible is a high priority for Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, who also lives in the area and said he has witnessed "a wave" of strollers, indicating families with toddlers who will soon need to go to school.

He's worried  second school for the Partington Creek neighbourhood is too far behind the projected opening date for Smiling Creek, which he thinks will be full the minute it opens.

With the city moving ahead with its plan for the Partington Creek neighbourhood, expected to accommodate 10,000 to 15,000 people eventually, the area's population of young children could soon jump.

"That's a big community ready to go. It would be nice to see the schools go in when the population rises," said Hodge, who is also council's liaison with the school board and acknowledges the district has other capital needs, including replacement of many aging buildings.

Another complication is that Coquitlam's Official Community Plan has indicated desirable sites for schools well in advance of the actual land purchases and, creating expectations that can't always be met.

For example, property west of Highland Drive (and west of Coast Meridian) was long considered a possible site for a school and a sign erected by someone other than the district said as much but was eventually taken down. Cecchini said the district hasn't ruled out a school in that area but it's not on the list of priorities. "It is a possibility, we are not that far in our planning," he said, adding that the district has to wait until it has funds, and acquired the land, before making more specific plans known.

Queenston Avenue east of Coast Meridian has also been suggested as a location for a school, but once again, Cecchini said, the district hasn't acquired any land there. "We haven't secured a site, until we have secured funding and can actually go ahead ... that's one in the OCP, that's not something we have secured," Cecchini said.

A new middle school for the area is also a long way out. In fact, Burke Mountain secondary school is supposed to open before planning starts on Northeast Coquitlam middle, Hodge noted. Those plans have the councillor wondering if busing students to schools is part of the long-term plan. Currently, middle school students are bused to either Kwayhquitlum or Minnekhada and that situation could continue for the next 14 years if the school construction timeline is any indication.

BUSING SOLUTION

Cecchini said busing is the solution for now because enrolment of the Grade 6 to 8 age group won't be high enough to justify a middle school and there is room at both Kwayhquitlum and Minnekhada, which is also on the district's priority list for a rebuild.

"I think that's the reality of today; we just don't have the kids to build a middle school on Burke Mountain at this time and we don't want to build a middle school of 200 kids," Cecchini said, noting that a typical middle school has between 550 to 600 students.

The area isn't expected to have that many middle school-aged kids until 2026, according to current projections.

Still, schools don't come cheap — roughly $14 million for an elementary school not including land costs, and Hodge agrees that the district will have to have its ducks in a row to get the province onside. But he says the sooner schools can be built in the area, with all the amenities they provide — in addition to fields and gymnasium, the city would like to see a small theatre, learning centres and even a satellite library — the quicker Burke Mountain will become a real community, Hodge said.

"In the absence of these, it's been difficult for the community to come together," he said.

He also lauded the district for at least setting some priorities and releasing the information so people have a better idea of what the plans are even if the sites haven't yet been identified.

"This gives some clarity to the residents, it gives clarity to the developers and it gives clarity to the city but the city and the school district have been working very closely behind the scenes."

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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