No more Albion development until new school built

District struggling to accommodate influx of families

Parents in the growing neighbourhood of Albion in east Maple Ridge are concerned the rapid pace of development there is outpacing infrastructure in the area: specifically, schools.

With Albion Elementary School at 123 per cent of capacity, and no more room to install portables on the property, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District is considering redrawing school catchment areas in the neighbourhood.

Michelle Wocknitz’s two sons are already attending Albion elementary. However, the proposed catchment changes will mean her daughter, 5, will have to register at Webster’s Corners Elementary, more than six kilometres away, next year.

“I’m going to pray we can transfer her to Albion so she can be with her brothers,” said Wocknitz.

While the district provides bussing from the Albion area to Webster’s Corners, as well as to Blue Mountain elementary for students in the Kanaka Creek and Alexander Robinson catchment areas, Wocknitz says that’s not an appropriate option for a five-year-old kindergartener.

“I can’t wait at the bus stop with her because I have to take her brothers to school,” she said.

Her sons love Albion elementary, and she doesn’t want to have to pull them out of a school where they’ve already made friends.

Wocknitz and dozens of other parents facing a similar predicament have formed the Concerned Parents of Albion Elementary School.

Wocknitz wants the District of Maple Ridge to freeze residential development within the Albion elementary catchment until a new school can be built.

“Every day when I drive my sons to school I see another subdivision being built,” she said. “It’s crazy the city would allow development to be approved in this neighbourhood when the school is already over capacity.”

Wocknitz, who grew up in Maple Ridge, says she doesn’t think realtors are being forthcoming with people moving into the new developments.

“They may not be able to send their children to the school they’re moving in next to,” she said. “But no one is telling the parents that.”

While Wocknitz says she understands the predicament the district is in, there needs to be a way to accommodate students with siblings already attending Albion.

The school district has been looking for close to $14 million in capital funding from the provincial government for more than five years to build a new elementary school in Albion. The school district already owns property on 104th Avenue, where it intends to build the new school.

However, even if funding for the new school was announced tomorrow, it would still be more than three years before the school could be built, secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson has previously stated.

The local school district held a parent information session last Thursday, when it took feedback from parents, much of it now available on the district’s website.

Laurie Meston, the district’s director of instruction for kindergarten to Grade 12, said she understands parents’ concerns, but she doubts there will be a solution that satisfies everyone.

“Sadly, not everybody is going to be happy,” Meston said. But the situation is not of the school district’s making, she added, and the district has no control over development in the area.

“It would help us significantly if we had funding for a new school in the area,” she said. “But that is up to the province.”

While some parents have suggested grandfathering in the siblings of students at Albion who now find themselves outside of the catchment boundary, that opens up other questions.

“How long do you grandfather? How do you track the kids? And what happens when someone moves in across the street [from the school] and there’s no room for them?” Meston said.

The school district is holding another parent feedback session on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at Thomas Haney Secondary School at 6:30 p.m.

Staff will be making recommendations to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education at their Wednesday, Jan. 11 meeting.

• For more information about the school district’s proposed catchment boundary changes, visit www.sd42.ca/catchment-changes

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