While other districts in B.C. grapple with closing schools, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are in a strong position to ask the Education Ministry for a new one.
An adviser appointed by the provincial government has told the Vancouver school board to close up to 19 schools, and recommended other school districts with excess capacity to also consider closures.
As many as 40 schools could be closed around the province, but no closures are being recommended in School District No. 42, said, says board chair Mike Murray.
Closing schools is a drastic step, he added, one undertaken here in 2009, when Riverside and Mt. Crescent elementary schools were shut down.
Those were the last closures in the district.
“Anytime you close a school, it’s going to be very difficult for parents and children,” said Murray. “Given what I know about our facilities plan, I would oppose any plan to close any schools.”
This district has faced challenges populating all of its schools, due to a recent overall decline in enrolment and an imbalance of new growth in the eastern region of Maple Ridge.
However, enrolment increased this fall by 418.5 full-time students more than was expected.
Much of that is the result of new families moving to the area.
Home prices may be some of the reason, but school staff report a significant number of families have returned to Maple Ridge from Alberta, said Murray.
Albion is growing the fastest.
“That area is happening sooner than we expected,” said Murray, “which puts pressure on us to get going on a new school.”
He said the district has been working with the Education Ministry on that project, in the context of its recently completed facilities review.
There were no recommendations to close schools in the review, but rather recommendations to pursue new schools in Albion and Silver Valley.
Some of the schools that have had low student populations in the past, or are at the far reaches of the district are now at reasonably healthy enrolments, Murray added.
Whonnock elementary has 296 students, while Highland Park 299, Blue Mountain has 216 and Webster’s Corners, 195.