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30% jump in cost to buy land for a school in Coquitlam's growing city centre area

Planning for new schools in growing areas is a challenge because land costs rise as development gets closer; Coquitlam area trustees say developers should contribute more
Purchasing land for a new school identified in the Coquitlam City Centre Area Plan is projected to cost 30% more compared to last year.

Land acquisition costs for a new school for a planned redevelopment of Coquitlam’s city centre area have skyrocketed in recent months.

Projected costs have ballooned nearly 30% to $32.4 million for a 1.2 hectare parcel (three acres) seen as necessary to accommodate a school for families expected to move to the area that could be home to 24,000 more people in the next 25 years.

Last year, School District 43 (SD43) estimated costs for the land would be in the neighbourhood of about $25.6 million.

But real estate prices have risen since the district put forward its Eligible School Sites proposal and plans for the area have started to take shape.

If the district had to buy land for all schools on its list, taxpayers would shell out $132 million. Costs contributed by developers building new homes amount to about $500,000 annually.

“That’s a big gap,” noted Port Coquitlam trustee Michael Thomas, who said the province should change legislation to require developers to pay more. 

“It would take us what — 300 years to save that.”

SD43 and the BC School Trustees Association have brought the issue up with the province, trustees were told at a board of education meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

But purchasing land for schools is always a costly endeavour as development pushes land costs up.

Coquitlam is a case in point with land acquisition costs rising for all but one new school proposed for new neighbourhood.

In November 2020, Coquitlam approved its City Centre Area Plan turning the city from suburbia to an urban hub.

As well, a proposal for a master-planned community on the other side of Lougheed Highway from Coquitlam Centre has been brought forward.

Although just numbers on a page and a spot on a map for now, the new school for 455 students would be located at the south west corner of Coquitlam Centre mall, according to city staff.

It’s not the only land parcel rising in price: Burke Mountain properties are also getting expensive and in Port Moody, where the B.C. government approved funding for a replacement school for Moody Elementary, land costs for a Port Moody Centre school are projected at $29.6 million.

To keep costs down, the district anticipates that some school sites will be joint park sites, so less acreage is required.

Here the list of school sites needed:

• Riverwalk: $22.3 million, 455, 2.5 hectares

• Marigold: $22.3 million, 455 students, 2.5 hectares

• Port Moody Centre: $29.6 million, 455 students, 1.2 hectares

• Fraser Mills: $21 million, 455 students, 1.2 hectares

• Coquitlam City Centre: $32.4 million, 455 students, 1.2 hectares

• Hazel Coy: $22.3 million, 455 students, 2.5 hectares