It was a year ago that the head of the Surrey Board of Education stood in an empty field in Cloverdale, hopeful that a new, much-needed high school would soon take shape there.
The provincial government, three months away from an election, had announced it was committing $10.5 million to help pay for a new, 1,200-student secondary school in the Clayton area.
However, today the land remains empty.
“We’re hugely frustrated as a board,” said Trustee Terry Allen.
He said the need for more school space in some fast-growing neighbourhoods is already critical, with thousands of kids attending classes in Surrey’s 285 portables.
The province needs to fulfill its promises – and fast – said Allen.
“They’re already committed, big time. And still, we haven’t seen one penny.”
In a precedent-setting move, the Surrey School District even put up $5 million of its own reserve money – with the hope government will repay it – to hire architects and get a jump-start on planning a few new schools. The idea was that when the provincial funding was approved, construction could begin immediately.
Now, the plans are tentatively ready, said Allen, but the district can’t move forward without government approval and funding.
“It’s driving us crazy,” Allen said. “You know and I know that government doesn’t have a whole pile of money, but there are certain things that the government is responsible to provide.”
There’s also been no word on repayment of the $5 million, which was used to draw up concepts not only for the new Clayton high school, but another secondary school in the rapidly growing Grandview neighbourhood in South Surrey and expansions at two elementary schools.
The Grandview-area high school is needed to alleviate overcrowding at Earl Marriott Secondary and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary schools. Both have altered class schedules so different grades start and finish school at varying times.
Allen believes partnering with the city or health region to make better use of the space in Grandview is a great opportunity.
The City of Surrey was on board with such a concept last spring, interested in creating a so-called Campus of Learning-Active Living and Sport Excellence, with a recreation and aquatic centre next to the new high school. But again, the provincial dollars haven’t come.
“We’ve got to have a school, there’s no question about that, so why can’t they come up with the funding for us to start the process?” asked Allen. “If it did have a clinic attached, or community centre, how much better is that for the public than having a school that’s only open for 12 hours a day? It’s all taxpayers’ money, no matter which way you look at it.”
Even if construction began today on a new high school in Surrey, it would take a minimum of two years to build. Meetings are planned with the Minister of Education and Surrey MLAs to highlight the district’s concerns.