VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A lot of bleary-eyed kids will be heading off to their first day of the school year this morning — and for many, it will be spent in a portable, as some school districts deal with a space crunch because of BC’s court-mandated smaller class sizes.
Fewer students per class means more teachers and rooms are needed, and there are cases where daycares and adult programs have been pushed out of schools as formerly unneeded classroom space is reclaimed and more portables have popped up over the summer as well.
In Surrey, the province’s largest school district, 50 portables are being added to the existing 275.
The BC Teachers’ Federation says some districts were already struggling to keep up with growing student populations.
“Surrey, Chilliwack and the South Island have not had school construction keep pace with the demand and so in Surrey alone we have over 6,000 students in portables on a day-to-day basis and development continuing quite rapidly,” says BCTF president Glen Hansman.
“The Ministry of Education over the last few years has gotten a lot better in working with the Treasury Board in fast-tracking seismic upgrading and school construction but we have to be a lot more ambitious in working with municipalities to make sure, whether its putting in portables as temporary spaces or getting new schools built, that more aggressive timelines are set and we get it done,” he tells NEWS 1130.
Hansman believes it’s important to ensure all students can attend a neighbourhood school that is “safe and available to them” rather than being housed in portables or classrooms across town, and he thinks there have been positive changes in recent years.
“There was a time where a lot of the budgeting was short-sighted — not looking at the consequences 20 or 30 years from now — and we were having situations five or six years ago where new schools were being opened and there were seven portables on site on day one, which is a ridiculous position to be in,” he says.
“Dollars did begin to flow a bit more over the past couple of years but it’s also a matter of when the shovels actually hit the ground and when the school opens. There is a lot of appetite to continue to advocate for the province to make it happen quicker.”
But Hansman says school districts can run into difficulty with municipalities.
“It’s hard in a place like Surrey when a bunch of developments go up and the school board has to pay the same amount of money in order to procure land. We need those school spaces as we do hospitals and other public spaces that serve the community.”
Hansman says a concerted effort is needed to get new schools built and older schools seismically upgraded or replaced.