The future of schools is moving up in the world. Literally.
Abbotsford School District secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk told a handful of budget information session attendees at a presentation last week that the future of schools may require more upward than horizontal construction.
In a question period after the presentation, an attendee asked Velestuk if there were plans for a middle or secondary school in the east end of urban Abbotsford, citing the Eagle Mountain elementary school, residential construction in the area and already low vacancy rates in east side schools.
Velestuk said the school district does own more east side properties, but noted that the ministry expects new schools to be at capacity. For instance, the Eagle Mountain elementary school is expected to open at close to its capacity.
However, Velestuk said he’s currently more concerned about enrolment in another area of the city.
“What we’ve actually started to see in the last year, year-and-a-half, is a shift into this core area that is more alarming for us, because there’s not six or seven spare acres of land in the core area of the city for a school,” Velestuk said.
“Our manager of capital planning works very closely with the city on all areas of the city that have potential development, any future development at all. And while we see growth on the east side, for sure, one of the areas of … increasing awareness for us is in the core area of the city.”
Trustee Shirley Wilson noted that the school district’s capital spending is typically a reaction to the official community plan, which designates how the city will grow in the future. The City of Abbotsford’s OCP calls for aggressive densification in the core area, meaning the current growth in the city centre is not likely to abate anytime soon.
“We’re starting to see more buildings going up, so in our discussions with the city, they’ve had the same conversation with us about the new type of school we will have to start to think about building that will maybe go up, too, because the available land is at a premium,” Velestuk said.
“If the core does densify the way that plan lays out, it’s going to be an interesting time for us, for sure.”
Velestuk said the district uses “really sophisticated demographic software” to estimate where they will need to consider future capital investments based on input from the city on anticipated construction and average household demographics.
“But what’s interesting is that very phenomenon, where it used to be, I think, 0.8 students out of a house, it’s changing,” Velestuk said. “That is one of the issues we have to stay on top of, is what’s happening? Who’s living in these homes? How many students can we expect to see?”