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Does Queensborough need its own high school? New West exploring long-term options

Expanding Queensborough Middle School to include secondary grades could help ease the coming space crunch at NWSS
New Westminster Secondary School 2021
The brand-new NWSS will be at capacity by 2024, so how can the school district ease the coming space crunch? That question is being addressed in the district's long-range facilities plan.

The New Westminster school district is eyeing the possibility of a combined middle-and-secondary-school hub in Queensborough.

Under the plan, Queensborough Middle School could be expanded with a new wing to accommodate students from grades 6 to 12 (or, potentially, grades 5 to 12, depending on the grade configuration at Queen Elizabeth Elementary).

That suggestion is one of the ideas put forward in School District 40’s newly updated long-range facilities plan. The plan explores ways to accommodate rapid enrolment growth in a district challenged by a lack of land and small school sites.

New Westminster Secondary School, as the solitary high school in the district, comes under scrutiny, as it is rapidly approaching the point of overload. Despite a new building, which just opened to students this past January, the school is already at 90% capacity. It’s expected to be past 100% capacity by 2024, when the district projects the facility will have 2,027 students.

(Those numbers do not include international students, who pay fees to attend NWSS. They cover students in the regular secondary school and French immersion programs, as well as those enrolled in the SIGMA alternate program at the school.)

In total, the district says it will be short 517 spaces for secondary school students by 2035, failing any changes.

“It’s not uncommon for schools to be over-capacity,” secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham told trustees at the Oct. 14 operations committee meeting, when the plan came up for discussion.

Ketcham said capacity issues don’t usually have an impact on student learning until the 120% mark is reached. The plan shows NWSS at 118% capacity by 2032 and 122% by 2033.

Queensborough offers solution to NWSS space crunch

The long-range facilities plan, approved by trustees at the Oct. 26 school board meeting, suggests reconfiguring grades in Queensborough as the preferred option to deal with the future space crunch at NWSS.

It notes that the secondary school-age population (aged 14 to 17) living in Queensborough is projected to increase from 413 in 2021 to 658 in 2035. Currently, students living in Queensborough must rely on their own private transportation or take public transit across the bridge to attend NWSS.

“Without an expansion and possible grade configuration review, secondary student growth from the Queensborough community will place pressure upon New Westminster Secondary,” the plan says.

It suggests making a 500-student Queensborough Middle School expansion a “high-priority project” in the district’s five-year capital plan and working to acquire a school site for that expansion.

Failing a shift in Queensborough, the long-range facilities plan also suggests the district may be able to cope with the space crunch at NWSS by changing timetables – for instance, by staggering lunch breaks – to make space for more students without adding more classrooms and without having to move students elsewhere.

A third alternative, expanding the existing NWSS facility, would run into “significant site constraints,” the plan says. But Ketcham said there are opportunities for either short- or long-term expansion plans if the district opts to go that route.

High school plans are seven to 10 years off

Ketcham stressed the ideas outlined in the plan are for the long term.

“The immediacy of need is further out,” she said. “While we have more immediate needs when it comes to the elementary and middle school, the longer-term strategy really starts to become highlighted with respect to NWSS and Queensborough Middle School.”

She said those plans fall into the seven- to 10-year range.

Site acquisition for a Queensborough Middle School expansion, with an estimated cost of $60 million, has been included in the district’s five-year capital plan – a document it submits to the Ministry of Education.

“It’s to get this information on the ministry’s radar, and it’s more of a long-range document for us to execute and keep our finger on the pulse of how things are progressing,” Ketcham said, noting timing can be shifted if enrolment grows more quickly or more slowly than anticipated.

“Just because we put it in our long-range facilities plan, it’s not necessarily going to be actioned tomorrow. It is something that we’re going to continue to monitor over time.”

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