With some schools already full and enrolment expected to grow next fall, School District 72 is planning to increase space at four local sites.
The board approved a motion to set aside money for the project at a meeting earlier in February. The district will make available up to $300,000 from local capital and $300,000 from unrestricted surplus to increase classroom space at the schools. The move affects École Phoenix Middle School, Southgate Middle School, Ripple Rock Elementary and Ocean Grove Elementary. The approval of the funding now allows the district to convert two rooms at both the middle schools back to classrooms and one additional classroom at each of the elementary schools.
The provincial government’s Learning to Be Our Best Ministry of Education Capital Plan does not support expansion costs, and they are not eligible for Ministry of Education restricted capital funds.
At the meeting, secretary-treasurer Kevin Patrick outlined growth issues for the board, saying staff are looking at projected enrolment for next fall.
“At this point, it doesn’t seem like the student growth overall in the district is going to be huge. I think it is on an upward trend but moderate,” he said.
Projections suggest about 30 more full-time equivalent (FTE) students coming into the system in September. As well, there are some issues around internal migration within schools.
“Within our schools we do find little … localized trends that are putting some pressure on some spaces,” he said.
One of the challenges is cohorts of students moving from elementary schools into the middle schools, which in the case of École Phoenix and Southgate is putting pressure on space.
“I call it a ‘bubble,’ and I’m not sure if that’s the right description,” Patrick said. “It’s kind of a shock and a surprise because we’ve been dealing with enrolment declines for so many years.”
The schools, during periods of decline, started using available space for other activities or programming, such as adding computer labs.
“We’ve done a lot of really great things in these spaces, but we need those spaces back,” he added.
Each of the two middle schools will have to resume using two rooms as classroom space.
Patrick expects the conversion work to cost about $75,000 at each school. This will include room modifications, purchase of technology and furniture.
“In re-utilizing existing space, it is cheaper,” he said, acknowledging it will be difficult for staff and students at the schools to lose the extra space.
At Ocean Grove, which has portables, the district budgeted for a portable “to be safe” but is working on converting a room on the elementary school to handle enrolment growth. Patrick estimated renovation costs to be “at least half” of a portable. He said if they can get an expansion approved and redraw school boundaries, the hope is not to need the portables in the future.
Ripple Rock is expecting smaller growth, approximately four students. However, the addition of the new Indigenous language immersion program this fall is affecting space at the school, especially if there is any growth in future years.
“With the current projection, it would be really, really tight,” he said.