SURREY — For the first time in 20 years, Surrey schools have been closed district-wide due to snow – and it has happened three times this week.
The last city-wide closure was the storm of 1996/1997, said district spokesman Doug Strachan.
Asked the last time the district closed for multiple days, he replied, “For two back to back like this? I just wouldn’t be able to say.”
The decision isn’t taken lightly, Strachan added, because of the impact a closure has on parents who face daycare challenges. The call is made each morning, around 6 a.m., he explained.
“We do an assessment and we have our facilities people at different areas of the district and they report in at about 5:30 with what they’re seeing,” said Strachan.
While some districts make the call the night before, he said that’s not practical in Surrey.
“If there’s a heavy dependence on bussing of students, which some districts have, then you’ve got to take into account that buses will have to go through the snow and it might be more practical to make the call early,” he said. “Mission, and other municipalities, have lots of hills. Or they may have more rural schools where snow clearing from the city isn’t going to happen until later. In Surrey, not of our schools aren’t far off major routes.
“For a lot of school districts like ours, with the size we are and with the nature of our district and the schools and that sort of thing, it doesn’t make sense for us to say 12, 10, eight hours beforehand because the weather changes so much and even heavy snow at 10 o’clock if it stops and turns to rain overnight we’re good. We can’t depend on weather forecasts, we’ve seen that, they’re not reliable.”
Strachan said even when schools are open, parents should use their discretion about how safe it is to get there.
“If we stay open, one of the things we see is parents and students start to say we don’t care about their safety… They make the call about whether it’s safe to get to school, the student won’t be penalized…. With 125 school sites, we can’t get to every site in time for an assessment of all the neighbourhood routes. There’s the main road to the school but there’s many ways to get there that could affect many different people in the neighbourhood.”
See also: VIDEO: Ice skating on Surrey streets
Strachan acknowledged that earlier this winter there was criticism about some of the school walkways or sidewalks not being cleared but said “the reality is, for B.C. and particularly the Lower Mainland, it doesn’t make sense to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars for snow equipment.”
He added, “We haven’t had to clear snow for five years. It’s the same reason most people don’t have snow blowers in their garage. Practically it just doesn’t make sense.
“This is record snowfall. It’s going to mean things don’t work as well as they should.”
During a 44-day cold snap from Dec. 4 to Jan. 16, temperatures in Surrey were at or below zero degrees Celsius, the longest duration of freezing temperatures since 1984. According to Environment Canada weather data, the region has only experienced 14 similar long duration cold snaps in the past 100 years.