The discussion over who pays for new schools and how soon they will be built boiled over quickly last week, once word got out that there has been a dramatic shift made in the school construction system.
This shift is not at all surprising. School construction is a large capital cost for the provincial government, and Premier Christy Clark has been unusually clear and even blunt — both in her cabinet appointments and her public comments — that every single local government, board, Crown corporation and agency which depends on provincial funding is under the microscope.
In the case of school districts, most of them are land and facility-rich and cash-poor. Most have been losing students for years, yet have kept schools open with classrooms only partially full, or have closed buildings for school use but held on to the property.
Langley was losing students for more than a decade, but started to grow in recent years as Willoughby began to develop more intensively. The province has funded construction of three elementary and one middle school in Willoughby, but the crunch has hit hardest at the high school level. Even with the Sept. 22 opening of Yorkson Creek Middle School, R.E. Mountain Secondary (now a Grades 9-12 school) is hopelessly overcrowded.
A new high school is needed. Yet most high schools in Langley have room for more students. The trouble is, few are anywhere close to Willoughby.
The district also owns several buildings which are either closed or severely underutilized. These include County Line, Bradshaw, Aldergrove, James Anderson and Murrayville schools (closed), Otter School (used for an alternative program) and Lochiel School (underutilized for a home schooling program).
Together, the value of the land and buildings of these seven schools is in the many millons of dollars. In addition, Willoughby Elementary is located at a very busy intersection and it would likely be best if it could relocate to a somewhat quieter street. That land could be sold or used for a high school. Alternative use of school properties needs to be explored in more detail.