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New Westminster shut out of B.C. capital funding for new schools

But there's hope on the horizon for a future Fraser River elementary school.
École Qayqayt Elementary
École Qayqayt Elementary School, in New Westminster's fast-growing downtown, is past capacity. School District 40 wants to build another elementary school in the Fraser River zone to alleviate the pressure on Qayqayt and Lord Kelvin.

New Westminster didn’t get hoped-for dollars for a new elementary school and middle school in the latest round of capital budget announcements from the B.C. Ministry of Education.

But it did get an acknowledgement that a new elementary school is necessary and provincial support for developing a concept plan.

The ministry made its capital funding allocations to B.C.’s school districts last month, and School District 40 received funding for two minor capital projects: the second phase of exterior upgrades at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School ($1.7 million) and an HVAC upgrade at Glenbrook Middle School ($500,000).

What it didn’t get, however, was funding for any major capital projects.

SD40’s capital planning request to the province had detailed a request for $222.6 million, with $105.7 million of that designated for new school construction.

Its top priority was a new elementary school for kindergarten-to-Grade 5 students in the Fraser River zone (the central to western part of the city), at a cost of $47.6 million. Also on the list was $58.1 million to build a second middle school in the Fraser River zone.

Neither made the ministry’s funding list – but the ministry did acknowledge the need for the elementary school.

“Last month, we were pleased to support the district to develop a concept plan for a new elementary school in the Fraser River zone of the district. This new school will address enrolment growth in the district by delivering new student seats in New Westminster,” said a statement from the Ministry of Education and Child Care in response to inquiries from the Record.

“The New Westminster school district is currently working through the business case development stage to define project scope, schedule, and budget that will be brought forward for future funding approval. Ministry staff will work with the district to finalize its business case for funding approval.  

“Where funding has been approved by government, a school district will work through design, procurement, and construction to create the new student spaces required within the capital project.”

SD40 secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham said the district is working through the process of creating a concept plan with all the information required to ensure it makes a “thoughtful business case” for the new school.

She cautioned it doesn’t yet mean funding is assured.

“This is not yet a funding announcement. It is not an approval. It is simply an acknowledgement for the support of the needs of the district in requiring a 500-capacity elementary school,” she said at the board’s April 12 operations committee meeting.

“It’s certainly very welcome news, and the team looks forward to working on this project over the next coming months."

The school district's long-range facilities plan notes a need for multiple new schools in the district to accommodate rapid population growth in New Westminster. Many existing schools are at or past capacity, with the struggle for space being most acute in the Fraser River district – where both École Qayqayt Elementary School and Lord Kelvin Elementary School are bursting at the seams.

The ministry’s statement noted that, since 2017, the province has approved more than $57 million for capital projects in New Westminster. That money includes seismic upgrades at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School and construction of the just-opened new Skwo:wech Elementary School, along with the upcoming 325-seat addition at Queen Elizabeth Elementary School.

For more on the district's school capacity challenges, you can find the district's long-range facilities plan online.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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