Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid said it best when she told Black Press that she understands the Sooke School District’s keenness to get on with building two new high schools on the West Shore. “The time is now,” MacDiarmid said, though she qualified the statement by adding the government must also look at the needs of every school district in B.C.
There is no question the growing population of Langford, Colwood and the other West Shore communities deserve more than the antiquated school that’s been overstuffed with students for years. Belmont was built 50 years ago. It has been expanded over the years, but no one now is arguing that the high school is adequate for the community it’s supposed to serve.
Perhaps it’s more noticeable to those of us in Greater Victoria because we naturally compare schools to others in the region. Specifically, the optics of a community like Oak Bay getting a new school ahead of the West Shore leave some scratching their heads. But this isn’t a question of being in the right riding — as in having the right party representing your riding.
Oak Bay High serves a population that transcends Liberal MLA Ida Chong’s constituency. In fact, there are even students from the West Shore attending Oak Bay.
The fact is, Belmont, for all the pressure facing it, is still in much better shape than many schools across the province. On the mainland, the population growth in Surrey has forced a number of schools to rely on portables as they also desperately await new facilities.
According to MacDiarmid’s ministry, the province conducted a school facilities audit survey in 2005 that ranks 48 schools ahead of Belmont. The survey measured the “strictly physical” health of high schools. The ministry also considers things like the need for seismic upgrades and enrollment pressure to decide which schools actually get fixed or replaced first.
Obviously “the time is now” for a number of schools in B.C. Hopefully, the province’s capital plan, expected this spring, will give us a firm indication of when the province will commit to moving ahead with the Sooke School District’s plans for two, much-needed high schools.