Funding has been approved to build six classrooms and a “neighbourhood learning centre” at West Sechelt Elementary – enough space that portables will no longer be needed at the overcrowded school.
Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement Monday morning in the school’s gymnasium, filled with students, staff, and local politicians and officials. While the final design of the expansion is still forthcoming, Fleming said the classrooms will accommodate up to 145 children and 24 seats will be created through the new addition of the child care facility.
“In many parts of B.C. portables have become a de facto part of the school itself, and that’s a problem,” Fleming told the audience. “We’re going to get rid of all of these portables at West Sechelt.”
School District No.46 will contribute $500,000 and the province will provide $10.7 in capital funding for the project, which is expected to be completed by 2021.
The funding comes out of a $1.6-billion funding envelope for school capital projects.
Fleming said he had been working with MLA Nicholas Simons on the issue and thanked the school district for advocating for the expansion. In her speech, school board chair Pammila Ruth thanked Simons “for making sure that our voice has been heard.”
“We are pleased the neighbourhood learning centre is part of this plan and this is going to help make West Sechelt a community in itself,” Ruth said. “We know that the community of West Sechelt has been in dire need of something like this for a very long time.”
Over-capacity has been an ongoing issue at West Sechelt. For several years the district has been requesting capital funds from the province to expand the school, and in 2014, the district reduced the catchment area to slow enrolment rates. But portables were still required to handle the growth. Finally, in April 2018, the province asked the school district to provide a more detailed proposal for the expansion, signalling its commitment to fund the expansion.
Superintendent Patrick Bocking said he didn’t expect the catchment area to change with the expansion, since the school is already operating at 132 per cent capacity. “That’s not the plan. The plan is accommodate the students that are already here,” he told Coast Reporter.
The expansion will be enough to remove the five portables at West Sechelt and two at nearby schools.
“It’s been a challenge having the portables, especially in these winter months when we get the rain and you see the kids who come to school that aren’t equipped properly,” said Aspen Wing, parent advisory committee chair, following Monday’s announcement in the school gymnasium. “This announcement brings, in my opinion, the school back together.”