Summer months will be time of change at some Surrey schools

The largest and fastest-growing school district in B.C. will be using the next two months of downtime to prepare to receive thousands of new students.

Summer break will signal changes to the way some schools look and operate in Surrey, to prepare for yet another year of overcrowded schools. The alterations will include portable classrooms, new modular classrooms, and staggered start times at a number of secondary schools

“We are looking for somewhere between 2,300 and 2,500 new students come September. That would increase our total enrolment to over 85,000 students in our district,” says Gary Tymoschuk, vice president of the Surrey Board of Education.

He points out those numbers are always in flux at this point in the year and specific numbers won’t be known until well into September.

As usual, portables are being brought in to accommodate more students. It’s anticipated ten more portables will be brought in to the district, for a total of 346.

The fastest growing neighbourhoods, putting the most stress on facilities, are in the southern and eastern sections of the city, including Cloverdale, Clayton, and Fleetwood.

Despite the fact portables are physical assets, the school board — not the province — pays for them.

“The cost of portables and the cost of relocating them comes out of our operating budget. Quite honestly, we had quite a challenging budget year, so we will do everything in our power to not have to purchase or relocate any portables during future summers,” says Tymoschuk.

To that end, the board is introducing staggered start-times at six secondary schools: Salish Secondary, Grandview Heights Secondary, Fleetwood Park Secondary, Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, Kwantlen Park Secondary, and Tamanawis Secondary.

Tymoschuk notes an expanded day will accommodate growth while avoiding the need to truck in more portables.

“Those six schools will operate on a five-block system. Students will still attend four blocks, but attend either the first four blocks of the day, or the last four blocks of the day. Or in some cases, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.”

He admits the plan has few fans, but he feels teachers, students, and families understand why they’ve had to resort to new responses given the current situation.

Other ideas over the past year have been dismissed outright, including one that would have seen portables stacked on top of each other in order to save space.

Last fall, the province rolled out another temporary solution for Surrey: prefabricated modular classrooms. They are considered a step up from portables in that they’ll be equipped with washrooms, ventilation, and cooling systems. An added feature is that they are stackable so they take up less space on school play fields. The school district already uses the modules but only for kindergarten students.

Three elementary schools — Lena Shaw, Walnut Road and Woodland Park — will be getting the new classrooms. The modules will add 16 classrooms to Woodland Park alone.

In September of 2025, Walnut Road will be getting an additional four modular classrooms, to complement the 12 it’s getting this fall. École Martha Currie will be getting six prefabricated classrooms to replace the portables at that school.

“They are not portables, but they are not bricks-and-mortar schools that we are looking for at so many locations in the district,” says Tymoschuk.

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