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B.C.'s 'most expensive' school passes first hurdle toward approval, construction in Coquitlam

B.C. government announcement on Burke Mountain school: short of full approval but moves costly school to next phase
Coquitlam parents Burke Mountain Rally
Coquitlam parents rallied in March, 2021 in an effort to convince the provincial government to fund a joint middle/secondary school they have waited years for in Burke Mountain.

One of B.C.’s most costly schools has passed a major hurdle toward construction.

But will it be built soon enough for Coquitlam families living on Burke Mountain?

Today (Aug. 10), the provincial government announced it has approved a concept plan for a proposed $125-million joint middle/secondary school for 1,000 students in the growing neighbourhood.

However, there are still several more stages to be passed before the building with a turf field and a track can be approved and built.

A best case scenario would see the school open in 2024, but Fin Donnelly hopes to see an opening date set in stone soon.

“It’s been promised forever and it’s so needed for Coquitlam and Burke Mountain to have students go to school locally in the community they live in,” said the MLA for Coquitlam-Burke Mountain.

Donnelly added the concept plan is an important phase in a two-step process to get treasury board approval.

It means the Coquitlam school district (SD43) has the province's support to develop a business case, which will finalize the details of the new school, such as scope, schedule and budget. 

If the case is approved – and capital funding is provided – the project will proceed to the design stage, then construction.

Parents have long called for schools on Burke Mountain, hosting a rally this past spring and creating a petition to garner support for the project.

“That’s why many of us voted NDP,” said parent Isabel Silvestre, co-founder of the Burke Mountain Parents School Group, in March when a rally was held and a 1,000-name petition was posted online.

Donnelly acknowledges that the premier promised the building during the last provincial election and he stands by his word that it will be built.

“This is my top priority in Burke Mountain since me and the premier promised this school would be built,” Donnelly said.

Still, the process is taking time, proving challenging for the board of education, which wanted the school to open in 2023 and considered putting $1 million towards the design process to fast-track its construction.

That plan was put on hold pending more concrete approvals from the province.

Now the parents must wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to grind and approvals to be obtained.

While Donnelly is optimistic the project will be approved in a timely fashion, he acknowledged construction costs are expensive. 

Because of the steep slopes of the site, the project that will be jointly built by the district and the city of Coquitlam, costs have grown from $70 million to about $125 million.

“It’s the most expensive school province in the province’s history; the ministry has to get it right, that’s important for taxpayers and education in the community.”

In a news release, board chair Kerri Palmer Isaak welcomed the news of the concept plan approval.

"The board of education appreciates the overwhelming support of families in the Burke Mountain neighbourhood in their tireless effort and support of the Coquitlam School District to open a middle-secondary school," said Kerri Palmer Isaak, board chair, SD43. 

"It's exciting for the project to move one step closer to realization for the many students of this fast-growing region."

SD43’s concept plan for the new middle-secondary school proposes a facility with room for 1,000 students, to be built on school district property in the Lower Hyde Creek Village neighbourhood. 

The site is set to be developed by the district and the city. 

Through a memorandum of understanding, Coquitlam has committed to providing outdoor amenities on the adjacent site, including a turf field and a track.

The province has also invested $52.3 million to build a new Sheffield Elementary – expected to open in summer 2022 – and its set to have spots for 430 students, part of the 1,035 new spaces funded by the province in less than four years throughout SD43.