New schools in $50 million ‘wish list’

Abbotsford school district's five-year capital plan for the province includes requests for funding for four new schools

New schools in $50 million 'wish list'

The Abbotsford school district’s new capital plan includes more than $50 million of upgrades and new schools over the next five years – with the hope that funding will materialize from the provincial government.

The plan includes a new Eagle Mountain elementary school, new middle and secondary schools in the eastern part of the city, and upgrades to Yale and W.J. Mouat secondary schools.

Whether the district gets provincial money to build those items is another matter. The capital plan is the first that Abbotsford and other districts around B.C. have been requested to prepare for the province since the 2013/14 fiscal year. Trustees were set to vote on it Tuesday evening after The News’ press deadline. If approved, it would be forwarded to the provincial government, which will use it and similar plans from B.C.’s 59 other school districts to decide where to allocate capital funding.

“It’s a wish list based on our best guess for growth and need of school space,” school district spokesperson Dave Stephen said.

The new schools are toward the bottom of the list, behind more pressing and less costly concerns such as lighting system upgrades, and roof and school bus replacements.

But as schools in the city’s east side fill up, the district is looking for funding to serve the increasing number of students in the area.

“Almost all our elementary schools in what we call the east side are full,” Stephen said. “So we anticipate needing schools sooner rather than later … and as more elementary students go through, we know we’re going to need more middle and secondary space.”

As students returned this fall, classes were added at four elementary schools, and subtracted at two. With Sandy Hill and McMillan elementary schools at capacity, 18 students from the two schools were being bused to Prince Charles and Mountain elementary schools, respectively.

City planners will also brief the district on Dec. 1 on Abbotsford’s new Official Community Plan, which will affect long-term development and population growth.

The highest priority new school on the list, and the only school for which a funding request has been made for the first year of the capital plan, is a new 450-student elementary on Eagle Mountain Drive, on Sumas Mountain. The district has already acquired the property for the school, which is a holdover from the 2013/14 plan.

Construction is pegged by the district to cost $12.5 million. The school makes up more than half of the $21.3 million in capital funding included in the first year of the plan.

The other large year-one capital request is for a $5 million seismic upgrade for the Bakerview Centre of Learning.

The plan’s second year calls for $2 million in planning and property acquisition for a new east side middle school that would accommodate 600 students, while the third year includes $3 million for property and planning of a new 1,200-student east side secondary school.

The district has also requested $8.3 million to increase capacity at Yale secondary from 1,100 to 1,400 students, and $9.8 million to increase W. J. Mouat secondary school from 1,200 to 1,400. Both are listed in the plan’s third year.

The last item on the list is a request for $8.2 million in funding for a new Whatcom elementary school carried through the plan’s fourth and fifth years.

The most pressing requirements, according to the district, are upgrades and replacements to the lighting, air and water systems at several schools, along with replacements to the roofs at King Traditional and Centennial Park elementary schools.

Stephen said while the capital plan reflects what the district sees as needed, it expects funding for around half of the 14 capital projects for the first year.