If, by the stroke of a principal’s pen, the Central Okanagan School District were awarded three brand new schools that magically appeared for this school season, those schools would open at capacity, filled with students in one of the province’s few school districts that is showing growth.
However school principals have only so much power, and building schools isn’t one of them, so the school district will continue to operate with its current schools and portable additions, until such time an announcement on a new school is made and that school is built.
Central Okanagan schools will open on Tuesday at 98 per cent capacity. Some schools are over-subscribed and others still have space, depending on location. But enrolment projections have the district poised to grow again this year, by as many as 300 students.
“In my opinion it’s always nice to be growing,” said school district secretary treasurer Larry Paul. “It’s harder to downsize than to upsize. The challenge is that we are at 98 per cent capacity so without getting any new schools it’s going to become more of a challenge. We have some schools sitting at 115 to 120 per cent capacity and we have some schools at 80 to 85 per cent.”
The top three priorities for new schools in the district are for a middle school to be located in Pond’s neighbourhood of the Mission, a new high school for Glenmore that would be located near Parkinson Rec. and a new middle school in Lake Country to be located next to George Elliot secondary.
This is to say nothing of replacement schools, of which Rutland Middle remains the district’s top priority for replacement.
In a letter to the Central Okanagan School District, the provincial government is leaning towards building the two new middle schools first, likely due to cost. According to Paul, a new middle school would run about $35 million while a new high school would cost an estimated $60 to $70 million.
The province has asked Central Okanagan to move to phase two of development plans for the middle schools at the Ponds and in Lake Country, another step towards a potential announcement. But even after announcing a new school, it would take at least three years to build and open.
“The quickest I’ve ever seen a school built is 36 months after an announcement so it takes awhile,” said Paul, who added that moving to phase two of development plans is a clear indication that an announcement could be forthcoming. The government asked that the plans for the Ponds area be done by end of this summer and Lake Country by early next year.
“It’s not guaranteed but what (the province) is saying is we agree with you that there is a need and now we need to know exactly what the need is,” said Paul. “We will go into concept design and show them the increases in enrolment and what we are projecting for the areas. If the Ponds and Lake Country are supported, a new high school for Glenmore would move to our number one priority. If I could wave a wand and that 1,100 seat high school opened next week, it would open full. All three (new) schools would be full.”
In the meantime, Paul said the district will have to make due with its current schools as well as a series of closed portables that could be moved and re-opened to help alleviate over-crowding
“Those are only going to go so far,” he said. “We are already at 98 per cent capacity and we are showing growth. I think that will help us to show that we need to get going on more space.”