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Surrey city council declares shortage of schools a crisis, urges province to build more schools

A portable at Sunnyside Elementary School in Surrey, B.C. Mayor Brenda Locke says there may be nearly 400 portables in the city by September of next year.  (CBC - image credit)
A portable at Sunnyside Elementary School in Surrey, B.C. Mayor Brenda Locke says there may be nearly 400 portables in the city by September of next year. (CBC - image credit)

Surrey city council has declared a school infrastructure crisis with the city's mayor saying rapid investment in schools is needed.

At a council meeting Monday night, council directed staff to organize a meeting between the city, the Surrey School District, and provincial government officials to "remediate this crisis situation immediately," according to a statement from the city.

"The state of school infrastructure in Surrey has reached a crisis level," said Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke in a statement, adding there may be nearly 400 portables in the city by September of next year.

Locke called for more funding from the province, saying more schools need to "be built in lockstep with new housing."

"We know that without rapid investment, our schools are facing a dire situation. We need action and investment in building more schools in Surrey now."

The city says the Surrey School District saw more than 2,200 new enrolments, bringing the student population to over 78,000.

Enrolment is projected to rise rapidly in almost every community in the city, adding pressure on the system as many Surrey schools are already operating "far over capacity," the city says.

Gary Tymoschuk, vice-chair of the Surrey Board of Education, said portables are a short-term solution that is not sustainable due to cost and space limitations.

The use of portables puts financial pressure on the district as costs associated with purchasing and moving portables come out of its operating budget, Tymoschuk said. They also reduce children's play areas and sports fields.

Number of portables in Surrey schools, 1986-2022

Tymoschuk says a portable does not provide the same learning environment as a classroom.

"They are typically hotter because it's a smaller space, or at least a fully enclosed space with four walls, that gets the blaring heat that we've been experiencing over the last few days," he said.

Opposition B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon said last month the New Democrat government has failed to deliver on its promise from 2017 to eliminate portables at Surrey schools.  

He cited a letter Surrey's school board sent to Education Minister Rachna Singh late last month, saying population growth is exploding in the area, and the government has fallen behind on building new schools.

The letter says the district is now looking to buy 30 new portables for next school year and is also preparing to move 39 other portables to manage projected enrolment growth.

The Ministry of Education said last month that it has spent half a billion dollars on Surrey schools since 2017.

Premier David Eby said the government is committed to providing safe learning environments and has opened 10,000 new spaces for students through 16 new schools or additions that are complete or underway across the city.