Parents at an Abbotsford high school slated for seismic upgrades are considering appealing to the local business community to avoid students being displaced during the construction work.
Abbotsford School District’s board of education heard a presentation last week on options for accommodating students displaced by seismic upgrades at Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School.
Situated on the same campus as Abbotsford Traditional Middle School, the board of education heard that, during the construction, there will a shortfall of six rooms on the campus that would require portables to fit all ATSS and ATMS students on campus.
About 94 per cent of 770 responses to paper and digital feedback forms filled out by parents/guardians and students preferred to keep students on campus in portables. At a school board meeting, parents expressed concern that students may not return to traditional schools if temporarily displaced to Rick Hansen Secondary School (RHSS).
“There will be heavy attrition here, and your decision here could rip apart this school group,” parent Kuljit Sangha told the school board. “Another destination for families pulling out of traditional will eventually be private schools. We will be taking some of the best and brightest permanently out of the public system.”
Carelle McKellan said in an interview after the meeting that she’s appealing to nearby warehouse owners to donate space to temporarily house shop classes such as woodwork and other trades.
“I’m sure there’s someone that has a warehouse close to ATSS that could accommodate all the woodworking and welding equipment on their site and allow the teacher from the high school and the students to go there for less than a year,” McKellan said.
“Abbotsford is a very giving community and a very open community, and to see students suffer, I think, would be a real loss.”
At a school board meeting, assistant superintendent Gino Bondi presented several options for accommodating students, “leaving no stone unturned,” officials said.
The options included:
– keeping all students at ATSS at regular hours or on split shifts, requiring six portables at the school;
– relocating either Grades 9 and 10 or Grades 11 and 12 to RHSS;
– offering academic courses at ATSS and elective courses at RHSS, requiring no portables;
– requiring that Grade 6 students attend their catchment schools and limiting Grade 9 enrolment to existing Grade 8 ATMS students, requiring two portables; and
– amalgamating ATSS and ATMS campuses, including administration and counselling, freeing up redundant spaces for classrooms, though still requiring three portables.
Each option came with pros and cons, though the list of pros for keeping all students at ATSS were scant in Bondi’s report, only noting that all students would remain in the same physical space.
Among the issues, Bondi noted that the construction would disrupt access to facilities like washrooms, the gym and the band room, while technical education would not be available on site. That, he said, could be problematic for some students who rely on technical education credits to graduate.
The school district has also noted that the cost of each portable would be $225,000 – up to $1.35 million for six portables, which would not be covered by the ministry – for a school district that is currently grappling with a budgeted deficit that is draining its accumulated surplus.
But trustees sought to affirm to parents that, despite their anxieties, no decision has yet been made on the file, with Trustee Rhonda Pauls also pushing back against the idea that traditional schools are on a backburner.
“Currently (on school board) we have four parents who … camped out on the side of the road to get our kids in when we only had elementary school for traditional. So there is no lack of passion or understanding of the traditional program values, the commitment it takes,” Pauls said.
“If there’s anything that we could impart to you is that the best interest of your students and your families is at heart.”
Secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said he hopes to have consultations over and a business case approved by the ministry as soon as possible, but said he doubts it will come as early as July.