Future secondary school along Willoughby Slope in limbo

There’s trouble on the horizon on the Willoughby Slope.

Langley’s most densely populated area is facing “significant middle school and secondary school enrolment pressure,” according to a report from Langley School District secretary-treasurer David Green.

At the same time, enrolment at secondary schools in Aldergrove, Walnut Grove, Brookswood, D.W. Poppy and Langley are either stable, or declining.

The enrolment pressure on the Willoughby Slope is exacerbated by the fact that the Langley district has not received approval from the Ministry of Education for funding to acquire land and build a secondary school on the Willoughby Slope, the report reads.

Currently the Ministry is indicating it has no approval from Government’s Capital Planning Secretariat for funding to support projects in districts’ five-year capital plans, according to

Green’s report, adding that the Ministry has informed districts that support for projects would be stronger the more a district can bring to the table, particularly the recent announcement that districts have to bring at least 50 per cent of the project cost to new projects.

But time is ticking in Willoughby.

The construction of a secondary school is a minimum 42 to 48-month process, from design to construction completion.

So even if a district is green-lighted to start building a new high school, the earliest it would open its doors is September 2018.

So with no secondary school on the immediate horizon, the Langley district is considering relocating Willoughby Slope students to other Langley schools, as the district would continue to struggle with accommodating the middle school and secondary population growth in that area.

Langley Secondary is currently operating under capacity, however D.W. Poppy and Aldergrove have excess capacity but could accommodate students. Walnut Grove and

Brookswood are currently operating at or near capacity.

“It’s clear from this report that the secretary-treasurer has shared that we still have more work to do,” Trustee Alison McVeigh said, during Tuesday’s school board meeting at Langley City Hall. “We have not yet been able to secure something on the slope. I think it’s important as a board that we continue to advocate for that and that parents continue to advocate for that, because the need is there and it’s not going away. We’re struggling desperately to get one [school built] while in fact we need several more over several years.”

McVeigh added that “we have kids that we need to be concerned about. We have a huge overcrowding problem on the Willoughby slope. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Board vice-chair Rob McFarlane expressed his disappointment about the lack of government funding.

“I believe we put forward a compelling case of why one [new secondary school] should be approved and built, and how it could be done in an affordable way, both for ourselves and for the Ministry of Education,” he said. “While they haven’t said no, which is typical of these processes, they haven’t said yes, yet. I am concerned about the prospect about sending students from the Willoughby slope to further distances within our school district.”

Trustee Cecilia Reekie added, “Our district submitted our five-year capital plan and in that plan was funding for land acquisition and construction for a new secondary school.”

Reekie said the board and district’s leadership team met with Minister of Education Peter Fassbender and the community’s MLAs expressing their concerns and the urgency for the approval of the capital plan, “but to no avail.”

“I believe if we were to be approved this year for any of our capital projects, that would have already happened,” Reekie said. “I do not remain hopeful that the funding will come anytime in the immediate future. Very frustrating and disappointing to be in this position.”

Currently the students on the Willoughby Slope are serviced by five elementary schools (three K-7 schools and two K-5 schools) and one secondary school.

The three K-7 elementary schools are Lynn Fripps (which houses grade 6 and 7 students from R.C. Garnett), Willoughby and Langley Meadows. The two K-5 schools are RC Garnett and Richard Bulpitt.

The secondary school, R.E. Mountain Secondary (REM), has a Ministry operating capacity of 725 students but is currently over capacity with an enrollment of 1,153 students who are accommodated by the addition of 16 portable classrooms.

Yorkson Creek Middle School, with an operating capacity of 750 students, is currently under construction and will open in September 2014.

When the middle school opens all the elementary schools will become K-5 and although there will be initial enrolment declines in 2014 for the K-7 schools, growth is projected to continue for the foreseeable future in all K-5 schools, with the exception of RC Garnett and Langley Meadows.

When Yorkson Creek opens, R.E. Mountain will transition from a Grade 8-12 school to a grade configuration of 9-12.

After an initial decline in 2014 with the transfer of Grade 8 students to the middle school, continued steady growth is expected to occur at the school, rising to over the 1,700 student mark over 10 years.

The school has 16 portable classrooms on site to accommodate the student population of 1,125.

In order to house 400 to 500 more students, another 13-16 portables would be required.

The physical site on which the school is located cannot accommodate these additional portables.

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