'Critical need' for expansion of New West school, parents tell minister

Queen Elizabeth Community School using nine portables for its kindergarten to Grade 4 students

The B.C. government says it will be reviewing the New Westminster School District’s five-year capital plan as one parent advisory council calls for expedited expansion of their elementary school.

An expansion of the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Community School is listed as one of the school district’s top priorities in its five-year capital plan.

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The ministry is currently working on replacements of New Westminster Secondary and Richard McBride Elementary schools and a seismic upgrade of École Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary, totalling more than $135 million.

But a letter penned by QE PAC chair Bernadette Gourlay and member at large Sue Kenny to Education Ministry Rob Fleming expressed the “critical need” for an expansion to their school, pegged at around $18 million.

QE is the only elementary school in the Queensborough area, which the parents notes is geographically isolated from the rest of New Westminster. The school previously served kindergarten to Grade 7 until 2002, when the district officially opened Queensborough Middle School.

That school took the extraordinary step of including Grade 5 students, instead of the typical grades 6-8.

“However, even with eliminating a grade, capacity [at QE] is a stretch. We are a school and a neighbourhood experiencing exponential population growth,” the parents wrote in the email, noting the population effectively doubling to 9,000 between 2002 and now.

More families are expected, too, with more high-density developments slated for the area.

“We have been forced to reconfigure our schools in such a way that our students, staff and parents pay the price. Students are deprived access to standard learning opportunities in designated classrooms.”

That includes the computer lab, which has been repurposed as a resource room for students and staff, the parents wrote, adding that gym time “comes at a premium as multiple classes must share gym space, teacher time and equipment.”

“We no longer can accommodate our students in our physical building.”

The school now requires nine portables to fit all students, which “now cover the kids’ outdoor play space in almost its entirety,” and some of those portables are due to be decommissioned, according to the PAC.

Because those portables do not have plumbing, the parents’ letter notes that the available bathrooms cannot accommodate the volume of students using the facilities, resulting in unhygienic bathrooms. The parents note that this past school year, more than half of the school was hit by a norovirus-type illness.

The parents add that the portables are too cold in the winter and “ridiculously hot” in spring and summer due to insulation issues and too few windows.

“Dead rodents in one particular portable has led to displacement of kids as their class was closed on two separate occasions for maintenance and repair,” the parents wrote.

“The previous B.C. government failed to act and significantly underfunded our public education system, which has placed us in the dire situation we are [in] today,” the letter reads.

In a statement to The Record, the ministry said it will be reviewing the school district’s five-year capital plan ahead of the 2020 budget, adding that it will respond directly to the PAC’s letter.

“We will continue working with the district on moving necessary capital investments forward so portables aren’t used as a long-term solution to growth,” the ministry said.

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