Troubles with classroom capacity and a need to plan for future increases in enrolment at North Okanagan-Shuswap schools has prompted the district to set aside funds for a long-range facilities plan.
The decision to set aside $35,000 for a long-range plan came after two presentations at the Feb. 19 board of education meeting, detailing capacity challenges and advocating planning ahead to avoid future complications.
A presentation by assistant superintendent Carl Cooper gave some specifics to the capacity challenges facing many district schools, particularly secondary and middle schools in the Salmon Arm area.
Shuswap Middle School has been over capacity since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, showing a sharp spike in enrolment over 2016. Salmon Arm Secondary’s Jackson Campus is expected to reach capacity in the 2019-20 school year, and grow at a steady rate as middle school students enter secondary school. The Sullivan Campus shows room for steady growth without reaching capacity, however.
A decision made in January to expand the South Canoe Outdoor School to Grade 7 may lift some issues with enrolment from Shuswap Middle School, but puts South Canoe on track to reach capacity by 2021. Other elementary schools in the Salmon Arm area show little challenges with enrolment as a group, though individual schools such as Ranchero Elementary have reported capacity challenges in the past.
Elsewhere in the district, Armstrong and Enderby’s elementary and middle schools show room for growth in their numbers, though Pleasant Valley Secondary School is expected to receive a surge of new students in 2020 as they age out of middle school. Sicamous schools also have plenty of room to grow their student body without issue.
Cooper said during his presentation the district’s data on student capacity is outdated, however, and this was backed up by secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron. Some district buildings have been altered, portable classrooms have been removed and acceptable class sizes have decreased in recent years. This means capacity issues could actually be more pressing than initially thought, and has led to the addition of 23 classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 8.
Over the next five years, the district expects a further increase of 580 students, making prior planning important to accommodate these new students. A long-term facilities plan will help the district with how they use facilities available to them and make the necessary changes to overcome budget and capacity challenges.