South Albion elementary will become a reality, as Education Minister Mike Bernier is coming to town on Friday morning to announce a new $24.4 million school with 585 student spaces.
The facility will be on property the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District owns on 104th Avenue near 240th Street, and will be part of a Neighbourhood Learning and Community Centre, which is a joint venture with the city.
Bernier is scheduled to make the announcement today at the school district office on Brown Avenue, joined by Marc Dalton, MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission, Doug Bing, MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, Mike Murray, Maple Ridge board of education chair, as well as school district and city officials.
The draft design plans for the new school were part of the event.
“We are investing in critical school infrastructure to support B.C.’s rapidly growing communities, families and student learning,” said Bernier.
Murray and the rest of the board have been waiting for the government to officially announce the funding.
“This is a very welcome announcement,” said Murray.
“Building a new elementary school in the south Albion area of Maple Ridge has been a top priority for our school district for many years. We have worked closely with the City of Maple Ridge to engage with the community and to determine how best to meet the needs of this fast-growing neighbourhood. We are very excited to be able to move ahead with this much-needed new school.”
The city is in the process of getting public feedback on recreation and cultural facilities, but has already committed to the joint project with the school board.
In January, Mayor Nicole Read said the replacement for the Albion community hall will be built in conjunction with the school.
Work is expected to start in summer 2018 and finish in fall 2019.
“For us, as a city, that Albion school is the highest priority,” Read said Thursday.
She noted that future residential development of the area could be stalled otherwise.
The city and school district agreed to partner on a new elementary school and community centre on 104th Avenue, and last February and March engaged in what Read called “an excellent engagement process.”
Read said council will next determine how to fund the city’s share of the project – an estimated $10 million.
City CAO Ted Swabey said the city will first firm up land use agreements with the school district, do detailed design work and complete the public engagement process for its proposed new facilities.
At that point, council will receive a finance report for the project.
Swabey said council has been committed to a partnership with the school district in the new project.
The planning process saw an was emphasis on arts programs, connecting with the outdoors, and creating community gathering spaces.
Some of the space is designed as a neighbourhood learning centre, and includes a shared art studio, shared music and theatre studio with an small outdoor amphitheatre, and an enlarged learning commons and library.
The community centre shows a hall with a kitchen, multipurpose rooms, community garden, outdoor play area, water play, outdoor living area and a stage and a larger amphitheatre.
“We know, in order to be able to improve the conditions in Albion, we have to be able build a new school,” Read said.
Dalton agreed that the school has been a school district priority for most of a decade.
“Doug Bing and I have been working on this for a long time, and it has been a school district priority,” said Dalton. “The challenge has been the numbers in our district.”
With declining enrolment, there has been unused capacity at elementary schools in the district overall. The school board has been making the case to the ministry, though, that there is increasing demand in the fast-developing eastern neighbourhoods.
Dalton and Bernier toured the neighbourhood and the existing Albion elementary in 2015, and saw that there are five portable classrooms on site to handle a school population that was at 130 per cent of capacity – today it is at 131 per cent.
It was built to accommodate 438 kids, and enrolment is 571.
The district had been asking for schools in both Silver Valley and Albion, said Dalton.
Once the district focused on the Albion site, in partnership with the city, the case for a new school could be made.
“And obviously, the fiscal position that we’re in helps,” Dalton added, referring to the province’s $295 million budget surplus.
The new school will be nearly 4,700 square metres. A ministry press release describes it as “a state-of-the-art building with open, modern and collaborative learning spaces to support B.C.’s new curriculum.”
It will have three kindergarten and 21 elementary classrooms and include a large grass sports field. The new school will be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards. It will house a StrongStart space for early learning programs for children and a
Neighbourhood Learning Centre to provide community services and programs.
The province is funding $20.8 million towards the project and the school district is contributing $3.6 million.
The construction project will create an estimated 74 direct jobs.
“Today’s funding announcement for the new South Albion Elementary school is a very exciting day for our growing community,” said Dalton. “This new and modern school will support our youngest learners, families and south Albion neighbourhood for years to come.”
Added Bing: “This funding announcement builds upon our government’s strong commitment to education in Maple Ridge and I am excited along with the rest of our community to see this new school built. I look forward to this state-of-the-art building providing world class education in our community and providing our children with the tools they need to succeed.”