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Education Minister reviewing development fees for schools

$57 million investment announcement on Thursday is just the latest from a provincial government trying to keep up with growing classroom demand in Surrey

Minister of Education Rob Fleming says he is looking at raising out-dated development fees to pay for new schools, particularly in growing municipalities.

Known as a School Site Acquisition Charge, these legislated fees are intended for new developments to pay, in part, for new schools.

However, the fee has not been adjusted in 20 years, meaning existing taxpayers are having to fork over more money from general income taxes for new schools elsewhere, as land values and construction costs rise.

“We are aware and it’s under active review,” said Fleming March 12, when asked about the stagnant fee by Glacier Media during a funding announcement at Surrey’s Sunnyside elementary.

“It was inadequate to begin with and it’s really fallen behind in terms of the value and cost of land in places like Surrey,” said Fleming.

A new house is presently charged $1,000; a townhouse is charged $800 and a new condo unit is charged $600. Buyers of these new homes pay these fees.

City planners, such as in Richmond, estimate about 300 new multi-family units produces 50 school age children.

So, 3,000 new units, resulting in 500 new kids, would generate only $2.4 million.

Fleming said he started looking at the charge at the urging of some mayors, including Mayor Doug McCallum in Surrey, where 6,632 new dwellings were permitted in 2019.

Fleming said only 17 of 60 school districts in B.C. are in municipalities that are assessed the fee.

Developments in Vancouver do not have the fee and the matter came to a head earlier this year when former chief city planner Brent Toderian complained publicly about a lack of new school space for his children in Downtown Vancouver, following a wave of condo development he himself was partly responsible for between 2006 and 2012.

In 2016 the Toronto District School Board raised the issue with the Ontario government, which had no such fee.

Fleming said he wants to ensure any future adjustment factors into the government’s housing affordability agenda.

In Surrey, where Fleming is most busy keeping up with new classroom demand, it seems doing so is a challenge.

Sunnyside elementary in South Surrey is getting a 25-seat addition by 2022. For now, it's more portable than brick and mortar school thanks to neighbourhood development.

Surrey’s population grew by 16,382 people to 584,526 total, between 2018 and 2019, according to BC Statistics estimates. That’s the most growth by one city in the province. Surrey’s 2.9% growth rate is the third fastest among cities in the province, following neighbouring Langley City (5.2%) and Colwood (3.0%).

On Thursday, for example, Fleming and other officials announced a brand-new elementary school for the Sunnyside Heights area, while Morgan elementary and White Rock elementary are to be expanded for a total cost of $57 million.

The announcement is new funding from the provincial budget, which has totalled $363 million in Surrey-White Rock over the past three years, according to the ministry.

These three new additions are part of the Surrey School District’s $1.36 billion five-year capital plan, from 2019. That price tag includes minor and major capital projects, site acquisition, new school construction and additions to existing schools.

However, despite this latest investment, and many others like it, the district is still forecasting a greater demand for portables over the next decade, even factoring in its planned capital projects.

“While the new schools and additional classroom spaces take shape, many schools will continue to use portables. This year the district has a total of 361 – 28 more than last year,” according to the district in August 2019.

The district told Surrey city council in January, “there should be less demand for portables as more new seats become available; however, as primary students transition to secondary schools, additional portables will likely be required for secondary school sites to accommodate growth.”

Fleming acknowledged portables have grown this year in Surrey, but he said there were only 10 new portables for K-12 instruction. New portable growth has largely been around childcare services and adult basic education, he said.

The district welcomed the new seats nevertheless.

"We're pleased that government has made getting students out of portables and back into classrooms a reality in our," said Terry Allen, vice-chair, Surrey Board of Education. "This investment will help address the exponential growth our district has been experiencing in many of our South Surrey and White Rock neighbourhoods."

Details of the three new/expanded Surrey school sites are as follows:

- The new, $44-million, 655-seat Sunnyside Heights-area elementary school will be built at 20th Avenue and 165A Street in South Surrey, with $5 million from the Surrey School District, and is expected to be ready for students in fall 2023. It will be built on land purchased in 2019 with $31 million from the Ministry of Education, adding much-needed classroom space to the fast-growing Grandview Heights neighbourhood. (Completion by September 2023)

- Adding 190 seats to Morgan Elementary, a $10.4-million project, means there will soon be no need for the five portables at the school. Construction on this addition is expected to be underway in fall 2021 for the new classrooms to be complete in December 2022.

- The new addition at White Rock Elementary, a $7.6-million investment from the Ministry of Education, will add 195 seats to the K-7 school, increasing capacity to 655 students and reducing the need for portables. Construction is expected to begin on the addition in spring 2021, and for the new classrooms to be ready for students in September 2022.

Government states: “In fewer than three years, the Province has announced nearly $2 billion for new and expanded schools, seismic upgrades and replacements, and land purchases for future schools. This includes the creation of nearly 12,400 new student seats at 31 new or expanded schools.”

The following school expansion projects are underway in the Surrey School District:

* Coyote Creek Elementary (100-seat addition, complete November 2020)

* Frost Road Elementary (150-seat addition, complete September 2020)

* Sullivan Elementary (200-seat addition, complete November 2020)

* Maddaugh Road Elementary (605-seat new school, complete January 2021)

* Edgewood Drive Elementary (655-seat new school, complete February 2021)

* Douglas-area elementary (605-seat school, complete November 2020)

* Grandview Heights Secondary (1,500-seat new school, complete September 2021)

* Sullivan Heights Secondary (700-seat addition, complete November 2021)

* Regent Road Elementary (655-seat new school, complete January 2022)

* Sunnyside Elementary (250-seat addition, complete September 2022)

* White Rock Elementary (195-seat addition, complete September 2022)

* Morgan Elementary (190-seat addition, complete December 2022)

* Sunnyside-area elementary (655-seat new school, complete September 2023)

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