There’s no money for new school land acquisition and no money for a Fraser River Middle School expansion in this year’s capital funding for New Westminster schools.
The New Westminster school district had submitted a $46.5-million capital plan to the Ministry of Education last year for approval.
Tops on its priority list was a request for $30 million to allow the district to purchase land for a new elementary school in the central part of the city. It had also asked for $9.5 million for a two-storey, eight-classroom expansion at Fraser River Middle School.
It got neither.
“Staff were disappointed to not see approval of the land acquisition plan request we put forward and the expansion plan for Fraser River Middle School, which we so urgently need at this time,” secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham said at the May 25 school board meeting.
The district would have used the $30 million to acquire land for a new elementary school in the Fraser River Middle zone to meet a projected shortfall of school space over the coming years – most of which will be needed in that central part of the city. The $9.5 million, meanwhile, would have funded a 200-student expansion that’s designed to meet the current and future capacity needs of Fraser River Middle School, which was built in 2016 and was already over capacity by 2019/20.
Ketcham said the district will continue to request that funding in the province’s next capital planning cycle (for 2022/23) but, in the meantime, staff would appreciate advocacy from the board on those requests.
Board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal agreed.
“I definitely share your disappointment,” she said. “We are one of the largest-growing districts in Metro Vancouver, and we’re also one of the smallest districts, with very little land space. I think it’s really important that we be ahead of our needs, and we do need the land to be able to build future schools, as well as expand current ones.”
Trustees voted unanimously to send a letter to Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside (also New Westminster’s MLA) outlining the urgency of the needs in the New Westminster school district.
MINOR CAPITAL FUNDING APPROVED
The school district wasn’t left completely out in the cold on the capital funding front.
It got approval for $1.65 million in minor capital funding, as announced by the province this month.
Of that, $950,000 is for HVAC upgrades at Queensborough Middle School, as the district had requested. It also received $358,000 for exterior wall upgrades at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School – less than the $1.15 million it had hoped for to cover windows and cladding.
Not funded were requests for an air source heat pump system at Lord Kelvin Elementary School ($280,000) and new air handlers at Queen Elizabeth Elementary ($425,000).
Under the province’s carbon-neutral capital plan, the district also received $350,000 for an energy systems upgrade at Queensborough Middle School – its top priority for the funding.
The school district had also hoped to receive funding for air source heat pump systems at Glenbrook Middle School and Herbert Spencer and F.W. Howay elementary schools, but those projects were not funded.
Ketcham noted the school district has one more chance for capital funding, and that’s under the province’s yet-to-be-announced playground program. The district submitted a request for funding for Herbert Spencer Elementary School’s playground as its top priority for the year.
Ketcham told trustees she’ll report back once the playground funding is announced.