The New Westminster school district is going big with its capital funding requests to the Ministry of Education this year.
The district is asking the province to cough up more than $201 million for new school facilities, land acquisition and expansion plans. Trustees voted Tuesday night (June 22) to support a 2022/23 capital plan submission recommended by secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham.
In a report to trustees, Ketcham noted the district didn’t receive any funding from the major capital project requests it submitted to the ministry for 2021/22. Chief among those requests were $30 million to allow the district to buy land for a new elementary school in the central part of the city and $9.5 million for a two-storey, eight-classroom expansion at Fraser River Middle School.
Both projects have returned to the district’s wish list this year – albeit with larger price tags attached.
The district’s requests for major capital projects are due by July 31, and the ministry makes its funding decisions by March 2022.
Here’s how this year’s requests break down:
NEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FOR FRASER RIVER CATCHMENT
The district is asking for $62.5 million, covering both land purchase and school building costs for a new elementary school designed to serve students in the Fraser River Middle School zone.
For land, it’s asking for $31 million, which it says should be enough to buy property provided it uses the current model of locating next to a city park to meet the need for greenspace.
It also wants $31.5 million to build a school for about 500 students, to be constructed by 2025/26.
“This would significantly relieve pressure off the Fraser River elementary schools – specifically Qayqayt Elementary and Lord Kelvin Elementary – that have small school sites with no room for further temporary expansion, and accommodate the growth as per the City of New Westminster’s official community plan,” Ketcham’s report says.
Ketcham told trustees at the meeting that the district is currently working with the city and real estate agents to identify suitable school sites.
FRASER RIVER MIDDLE SCHOOL EXPANSION
The district is continuing to ask for a 200-seat expansion at the over-capacity middle school – at a cost now pegged at $14 million.
If approved, the district says the expansion could be completed in the 2024/25 school year.
NEW MIDDLE SCHOOL
This request comes with a price tag that could vary from $51.8 million to $82.8 million.
Ketcham’s report says that, even with an expansion, Fraser River Middle School would be full to capacity upon completion of the addition. Glenbrook Middle School is also full and doesn’t have space for an expansion or portables, the report notes.
That leaves the district looking to build a new middle school – either by buying new land or by using and converting an existing school district-owned site.
“The district is working closely with the Ministry of Education to further explore which options make the most sense long-term, and both considerations have been included within the capital plan request,” the report says.
The cost to build a new, 500-student middle school would be about $51.8 million, with the cost of land for a school site sitting at about $31 million – thus the range in costs, depending which direction the district opts to take.
"We are currently evaluating many different options," Ketcham said.
FUTURE HUME PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Hume Park Elementary School closed in the 2013/14 school year due to low and declining enrolment, the report notes. Since then, the building has housed the district’s Home Learners Program.
In 2018, in response to the pending population growth in the area with the approval of the Sapperton Green development, the district acquired a new property on Fader Street, adjacent to the Hume Park building – to be used to alleviate future enrolment pressures.
Ketcham’s report notes the new school has been identified in the five-year plan but isn’t expected to be needed until the new residential developments are well underway.
At this point, the cost for the school stands at about $34.6 million, with no extra costs for land acquisition. But Ketcham noted that number is likely to go up in future.
“A number of years from now, that number could look quite different," she said.
SEISMIC UPGRADE TO EXISTING HUME PARK BUILDING
In the interim, before the new Hume Park school is required, the district is asking for $500,000 for seismic upgrades at the old school building, which has an H2 risk rating. (H2 refers to a “vulnerable structure” at high risk of widespread damage or structural failure in an earthquake. H1 would be the highest risk.)
ALTERNATE PROGRAM SITE
The district is asking for $7.5 million to acquire a new home for its RCAP and POWER alternate secondary school programs. The programs were relocated to leased office space in the Columbia Square plaza in the 2020/21 school year because of space pressures at the middle school, where RCAP was previously housed in a portable.
Ketcham’s report says the district is searching for a long-term solution that will meet the needs of students and staff, and it’s looking to purchase a centrally located site. The existing leased office space is 6,500 square feet, and Ketcham said the district would be looking for a site of at least that size, or possibly larger, to acommodate extra programming and supports for students.
It estimates the cost for such a space at $7.5 million, including any necessary renovations.