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New middle school tops New Westminster schools' $200M wish list

School District 40 is facing a triple challenge: fast-rising enrolment, full schools and not enough land to build new ones.
Qayqayt Elementary
Ëcole Qayqayt Elementary School in the downtown core is New Westminster's fastest-growing elementary school. School District 40 is planning a new elementary school and looking for funding for a new middle school to help accommodate growth in the city's core.

Funding for construction of a fourth middle school tops the New Westminster’s school district’s $213-million capital plan submission for 2023/24.

School District 40 has set out a new round of capital funding requests to the B.C. Ministry of Education. For the second year in a row, it’s asking for more than $200 million in funding to help alleviate a constant squeeze on space in the fast-growing district.

Last year, School District 40 had asked for $222 million in capital funding. Topping that list were money for a new elementary school and a new middle school in the Fraser River zone (the central and western part of the city).

Neither of those schools received funding for the 2022/23 year, but the ministry did formally acknowledge the need for the elementary school, and the district has moved on to the concept planning process. That new school will eventually take some of the pressure off the two elementary schools in the city’s core, Qayqayt and Lord Kelvin, which are both past capacity.

With the business case process underway for the new facility, funding for that school is no longer on the district’s wish list.

However, the need for a new middle school remains. The 2023/24 request includes $65.1 million for a new, 500-student middle school in the Fraser River zone — up from the $58.1 million the district had requested for the same project just a year ago.

Secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham said that school is the most “urgent and significant” priority for the district right now.

Queensborough facing school enrolment pressures

It’s also asking for $47.7 million for an expansion at Queensborough Middle School.

“That is a neighbourhood that is increasingly growing and facing enrolment pressures,” Ketcham said.

She said that funding is a “future-related” request, acknowledging the anticipated growth of the island neighbourhood over the next several years. It dovetails with the district’s long-range facilities plan, which suggests the possibility of reconfiguring grades at Queensborough Middle School to take some of the pressure off the city’s only high school, New Westminster Secondary.

Another forward-looking request comes in the form of $39.7 million for a full replacement of the old Hume Park Elementary School to accommodate future growth as a result of the upcoming Sapperton Green development.

The capital plan submission also highlights an ongoing need in the district: land.

It’s asking for $60 million for site acquisition: $30 million for the new Fraser River zone middle school, $20 million for a new site in Queensborough to accommodate middle and secondary school students, and $10 million for a new land and building to house its alternate education programs, RCAP and POWER, which are currently run out of rented premises in the Columbia Square plaza.

Ketcham conceded land acquisition continues to be a challenge for the school district.

“As everyone here knows, we are strapped for land in the city of New Westminster. There aren’t large swaths of land,” she said.

Ketcham said the biggest space crunch is anticipated over the next five years, and district staff are already looking at ways to accommodate expected enrolment growth and tide the district over until new schools can be completed. Plans on that front — which may include changes to catchments, programs of choice and child-care space in schools — will be coming in front of the school board in the fall, she said.

The 2023/24 capital plan submission was approved by trustees at the June 7 operations committee meeting and goes to the full board on June 21 for final approval.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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