The school district is rethinking its communication with Langley Township over school spaces in Willoughby as the area continues to grow.

Langley district grapples with Willoughby growth

There is no more room in some local elementary schools.

Langley’s school district is grappling with what it should tell developers and the Township as Willoughby schools grow more crowded.

With houses, townhouses, and condos under construction in the neighbourhood, local schools are already at or over capacity.

“It is getting to the point where we may have to be saying, there won’t be room in the neighbourhood school,” said Rob McFarlane, chair of the Langley Board of Education.

He added that the district wouldn’t take a position explicitly on development.

For years, the district has sent letters to the Township estimating the number of new students that would be expected from a major housing development.

Some of those letters are still arriving at the Township council table, but several months ago the district stopped sending them for Willoughby.

“We stopped doing the ones on the Willoughby slope,” said district secretary treasurer David Green.

Previously letters would say that children could attend a particular neighbourhood school.

“That specificity didn’t exist anymore,” Green said.

Now the trustees have been working on new wording for revised letters. Green said he expected a new policy before summer vacation, but nothing has been made public yet.

This happened as the district had to begin re-drawing catchment areas for northern Willoughby, mostly around Richard Bulpitt Elementary. It will also be requiring proof of residence for students attending Yorkson Middle School in the fall.

Some schools in Willoughby are already over capacity and are expected to see more students in September.

Yorkson Middle School has a capacity of 750 students and expects 960 to attend this fall.

R.C. Garnett has a capacity for 315 and projects 500 for the fall. It has nine portables, said Green.

Richard Bulpitt Elementary is having its catchment boundaries moved to avoid hitting 121 per cent of capacity by 2017. If the change is approved by the board in June, it could give the school breathing room until 2019, when it is expected to hit 105 per cent capacity.

In Surrey, which is dealing with a similar over crowding concerns, the Board of Education unanimously approved a request that the city hit pause on development in several areas.

The April motion called for the City to “temporarily suspend all new development approvals in the Clayton, Grandview/South Surrey and Newton regions until the Surrey School District receives adequate provincial funding to support the growing numbers of students moving into these regions.”

Many Surrey schools are already overcapacity, and another 1,000 new students are expected to enrol this fall.

Kerri Ross, a Langley District PAC representative for the Willoughby area, said she doesn’t think the Langley board should go that far.

They do need to talk to the Township more about what’s going on in the district, she said.

“The more information that’s being shared, the more trusting parents are of the process,” said Ross.

School districts can neither control the pace of development, nor can they build new schools on their own.

At present, the Langley district is trying to convince the province to fund the creation of a new high school for Willoughby near R.E. Mountain Secondary.

“Nothing’s been approved at this moment in time,” said McFarlane.

When the new high school is built, R.E. Mountain will be converted into a middle school, becoming the second middle school in the area along with Yorkson.

The Township estimates the population of Willoughby at more than 28,000 people.

 

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