It's been a long, long time coming, but Surrey will finally be able to build some new school space for its ever-growing number of students.
The provincial government is providing $300 million in capital funding to be spent on 19 projects in seven school districts throughout B.C. Of the 19 projects, eight are in Surrey, totaling about $102 million.
The money targets expansions to two high schools – Fraser Heights Secondary, which has 16 portables on site, and Panorama Ridge Secondary, where there are 14 portables.
Also planned are two new elementary schools in the rapidly growing neighbourhoods of South Newton and East Clayton, as well as money to purchase land for four new schools – two elementary and two secondary – in the hopes of eventually relieving severe overcrowding at Earl Marriott Secondary (EMS) and Lord Tweedsmuir (LT) Secondary.
With no new school capital provided since 2005, about 250-plus portables littering local school grounds and EMS and LT forced to adopt an extended timetable this year, the money couldn't have come soon enough.
Surrey Board of Education chairperson Laurae McNally was thrilled her board's longtime plea for funds was finally heard.
"It's a wonderful day in the neighbourhood," she repeated, in reference to children's entertainer Mr. Rogers. "This announcement addresses our most immediate needs."
Some Surrey Civic Coalition (SCC) trustee candidates slammed Monday's funding announcement at Hazelgrove Elementary, saying it's simply not enough and Surrey requires six schools now and another eight in the next five years just to keep pace with growth.
"Surrey needs more than this," acknowledged Premier Christy Clark , saying it wouldn't be the last funding announcement made. "There's more to do, there's no doubt about it."
McNally remained grateful.
"Considering we're getting a third of what's announced for the entire province, we're very happy, especially in these tough economic times," she said.
While pleased some funding is heading to Surrey, Bob Holmes, co-chair of Surrey's District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), was glad to hear Clark say more money would be coming.
Even if construction were to start now, it takes at least three years to build a school.
"Earl Marriott and Lord Tweedsmuir need a solution today," said Surrey Teachers' Association president Denise Moffatt. "It's high time Surrey's needs got addressed."
McNally said the district will move quickly, with staff immediately scouting potential school land sites and architects secured within a week or two.
Other new and upgraded schools were announced for the Central Okanagan, Langley, Richmond, Vancouver, Sooke and the Conseil scolaire francophone.
An additional $30 million has been committed by Surrey through development cost charges, while Sooke will provide $30 million from a school sale.