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SD42 superintendent welcomes opportunity for post-secondary facility

Projections show that in 2030 the district will need an additional 895 elementary school spaces
C’usqunela elementary principal Jon Wheatley shows off new reading areas in the library before the school’s official opening in 2019. (The News files)

As the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows School District grows, it is not a question of if the district needs more schools – but how soon can they be built.

According to the school district’s strategic facilities plan – which identifies the current and future financial needs for projects like school sites, new schools, and building upgrades – the City of Pitt Meadows has grown from a population of 15,278 in the year 2000 to 19,717 in 2020 – a 29-per- cent increase. Maple Ridge has seen 39-per-cent growth during the same timeframe, from a population of 65,850 to 97,479.

And with residential development in the planning phase for north of the Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows, in addition to development in the Albion, Silver Valley, Town Centre, and Lougheed Corridor in Maple Ridge – enrolment in the district’s 21 elementary schools is expected to increase each year. It could rise by 12 per cent by 2035 if current projections are accurate.

As for the district’s six secondary schools, enrolment has been stable for the past five years, but is projected to increase slightly each year to a projected 27 per cent by 2035 – if current enrolment forecasts stay true.

“We are definitely a growing school district,” said SD42 superintendent Harry Dhillon, noting that projections show that in 2030 the district will need an additional 895 elementary spaces, and 1,002 spaces by 2035.

“If the current enrolment forecast materializes, we project that enrolment at the secondary level will also continue to increase slightly, year over year, and could be up by nearly 27 per cent by 2035 – compared to current levels,” explained Dhillon.

But, the growth is not being felt evenly across the district.

The district will not need an additional elementary or secondary school in the west capital zone. However, said Dhillon, there is a need for expansion in the central and east capital zones. The facilities plan recommends the acquisition of a school site in the Silver Valley area because of the area’s enrolment growth and for the expansion of Eric Langton Elementary with nine additional classrooms and Harry Hooge Elementary with 10 classrooms.

In the Albion area, the school district owns a school site, but the process of building a new school begins once a school district receives approval from the Ministry of Education and Child Care.

“If the ministry were to approve this project in 2024, the new school would open September 2029,” said Dhillon.

Then there is the question of acquiring a post-secondary institution in the community.

Dhillon welcomes the opportunity, noting that even though the district has developed numerous skilled trades training partnerships with colleges and universities, a post-secondary presence in the community would remove a significant barrier for our graduated students.

He noted that this past spring the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training announced an allocation of $250,000 to conduct a needs assessment of post-secondary education and skills training in the community, in order to understand whether students in the area have access to the educational and training opportunities needed for them to thrive and be prepared for the economy of the future.

Two of the newest – and youngest – school board trustees echo Dhillon’s support of a post-secondary facility.

READ MORE: Province announces needs assessment for post-secondary options in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

Hudson Campbell, 20, said he is excited to learn the outcome of the province’s feasibility study, an assessment that is being done by Kwantlen Polytechnic University in collaboration with other public post-secondary institutions with nearby campuses.

Campbell said there’s a huge need for a post-secondary facility in Maple Ridge, because of transportation barriers students face.

Many of Campbell’s peers were unable to continue with their education or faced extreme barriers after high school because they found it difficult or were unable to physically travel to institutions outside the community.

He said the issue is complex – noting that the public transportation system is not great, the fact that gas is so expensive, and insurance, especially for young people, is also very costly.

ALSO: Need for post secondary education in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows growing

“So, if you’re paying an additional $400 a month on insurance and you are paying your own way through school, it makes it really inaccessible,” he said.

Trustee Gabe Liosis, 21, noted the community is growing rapidly, which is resulting in more youth graduating from the high schools.

School district data shows that there is a very high graduation rate, some of the highest graduation rates in the province and some of the highest honour roll rates as well.

“However, that isn’t translating into a high turnover into post secondary,” Liosis said, echoing Campbell’s opinion that post-secondary institutions are too far away.

A post-secondary institution in Maple Ridge, said Liosis, would keep youth in the city.

“At least, get their first year down, get their second year down pat. And then once they have some educational experience under their belt, perhaps some work experience under their belt too, while still living at home, kind of accumulating that experience, accumulating money, then they can look at branching out and transferring to other post secondary institutions within the region.”

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C’usqunela elementary principal Jon Wheatley outside the school, before the school’s official opening in 2019. (The News files)
Books are put on shelves in the library at c’usqunela Elementary before the school’s opening in 2019. (The News files)
SD42 superintendent Harry Dhillon addressed an audience recently at Thomas Haney Secondary before the oath of office was taken by the new school board. (The News files)

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

Colleen Flanagan is an award-winning multimedia journalist with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
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