Facilities report looks at overcrowded Kamloops schools

SD73 board of education opts not to reopen closed schools to deal with enrolment pressures

By Dale Bass – Kamloops This Week

The Kamloops-Thompson board of education believes it has time to deal with an increase in school population, with students learning in old, overcrowded classrooms.

Board chair Meghan Wade said the growth will be happening over the next decade and she remains hopeful the new provincial government will fund some capital works projects.

The discussion on Monday night, Dec. 11, was sparked by an updated facilities report from Art McDonald, School District 73’s director of facilities and transportation, and assistant superintendents Rob Schoen and Bill Hamblett.

Trustees had been asked to approve four recommendations. They were asked to maintain the international student program at Sa-Hali secondary and to keep student populations at Westmount, Juniper Ridge and David Thompson elementary schools. Trustees were also advised to not reopen elementary schools near each (Westsyde and Ralph Bell) ]to accommodate other students from those catchment areas.

However, the board opted to take no action on the report other than pass a motion that the international-student program remain at Sa-Hali secondary. The report had looked at moving it to NorKam secondary, but did not recommend taking that action.

The district, using a demographics mapping program that forecasts growth based on birth registry, family allowance and child-tax benefits, among other information, has predicted enrolment, now just over 14,000, will increase to about 15,000 by 2021 and grow to about 15,500 by 2027.

Looking at the next five years, the district estimates it will need to add 35 more classroom spaces among 17 city elementary schools and two secondary schools. The report said this will be done by repurposing classrooms now used for other purposes or adding portables.

Sa-Hali and Valleyview secondary schools are over-capacity and South Kamloops secondary is almost at full capacity, the report said.

It predicts each will grow in coming years. Sa-Hali, now at 116 per cent of capacity, is expected to reach 133 per cent by 2022 and drop to 128 per cent by 2027. South Kamloops is now at 98 per cent capacity and is predicted to reach 104 per cent by 2022 and 106 per cent by 2027.

Valleyview secondary faces the most dramatic growth. Already at 143 per cent of capacity, it is expected to reach 162 per cent by 2022 and 189 per cent by 2027.

At the elementary level, Westmount is at 141 per cent of capacity and is expected to grow to 154 per cent by 2022 and 155 per cent by 2027.

The report addressed reopening Westsyde elementary to deal with the issue, recommending it not be done. Staff looked at two possibilities: Move grades 6 and 7 to a reopened Westsyde elementary, creating a school of about 74 students and leaving 248 students at Westmount elementary in kindergarten to Grade 6 or move grades 5 through 7 to Westsyde, which would see 116 students at Westsyde and 206 at Westmount.

Reopening the school is estimated to cost $293,000.

Adding a bus route would be required as well as Westsyde is outside the walking limits for students in the Westmount elementary catchment area.

Similar evaluations were done for other schools and areas, with Pineview Valley in the southwest area getting particular attention as it has seen significant development and growth in the past 10 years. Elementary students there are now attending Dufferin and McGowan Park elementary schools.

A new school for the area has been on the district’s wish list for some time.

The report notes the Juniper Ridge area is also experiencing steady development, with the elementary school now at 154 per cent of capacity. It’s expected to hit 175 per cent of capacity within the next 10 years.

Options for it involved moving students to the closed Ralph Bell elementary in Valleyview, but that was not recommended.

Similarly, David Thompson elementary in Westsyde, behind Westsyde secondary, is overcapacity at 128 per cent. It is expected to be at 124 per cent by 2022 and 118 per cent by 2027.

Westsyde elementary was also considered to accommodate students from David Thompson, but again, the costs to open and the impacts on reconfiguring the schools led to a recommendation the board not reopen Westsyde elementary.

Instead, the capital plan submitted by the board to the Ministry of Education in June sets the No. 1 priority as an addition to Valleyview secondary. Next is adding to Westmount elementary, followed by building a school for the Pineview Valley area.

Lower priorities on the capital plan include an addition to South Kamloops secondary to create a new gym and more classroom space, as well as replacing A.E. Perry, Beattie, Bert Edwards, Kay Bingham, Marion Schilling and Raft River elementary schools.

To date there has been no approval by the ministry for any of those projects.

Meanwhile, Grade 7 students in Clearwater, Barriers and Chase may be moving to the secondary schools on each community next year.

The board moved to consider the suggestion, but board policy requires consultation before making such a change.

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