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$103.4 million needed for new schools

Replace MEMSS, merge Kildala and Nechako elementaries into one new facility.

More than $100 million should be spent replacing and consolidating Kitimat’s schools, an extensive report commissioned by the Coast Mountains School District has recommended.

Involved would be demolishing and replacing the Mount Elizabeth Secondary School facility with a new one to include Kitimat City High, and merging Kildala and Nechako elementaries into one new facility.

The report, which places the Mount Elizabeth replacement project first on a priority list of capital expenditures for the entire school district, was accepted by the school board on September 27.

In 2017 dollars, the Mount Elizabeth project carries a price tag of $65.6 million while the Kildala-Nechako project would cost $37.8 million for a total of $103.4 million.

The report was prepared by Cascade Facilities Managemet Consultants this year and follows provincial guidelines for school districts to assess the physical condition of school facilities, while forecasting future needs based on anticipated student enrolments over the next decade with an eye to capital expenditure submissions to the province.

Its authors point out that the report is not an educational study of what is taught within district schools.

Overall, the report concluded the school district’s facilities are generally, with the exception of newer construction, in poor or very poor shape although well-maintained, with the school district also maintaining too much space given its current and projected student population.

“The Board of Education of Coast Mountains School District has shown great initiative over the past seven years, determining the downside of under-utilized facilities and falling enrolment, taking steps to close and consolidate schools, and re-organizing district programs and grade structures to provide the best opportunities for students,” the report noted.

“This foresight and courage to make hard decisions will unfortunately continue to be needed over the first half of this decade.”

Key to the report are enrolment projections so that the size of facilities match the number of anticipated students.

It notes the education ministry has set a target utilization rate of 85 per cent for the school district’s schools, a critical benchmark when new construction is being considered.

“The impact of being below the ministry capacity utilization factor is that priority for capital projects from that district can be reduced when the ministry assesses competing district submissions,” the report states.

In regards to the current Mount Elizabeth facility, the current capacity is 1,175 students while the current Grade 7 to 12 enrolment is just 426, a number forecast to rise to 460.

That utilization rate, combined with the state of the facility, is propelling the call for a new school for 500 students, including those attending Kitimat City High.

Kildala Elementary and Nechako Elementary also have low current utilization rates, the former at 44 per cent and the latter at 51 per cent, leading the report to conclude both facilities could be replaced with a new one to hold 500 students.

The report used a wide-ranging collection of census data, fertility rates, in-migration and other data, to forecast a modest rise in the school district’s current population from 4,130 to 4,534 students by 2025/2026.

Not included in the report’s student population projections are any of the planned or proposed large scale industrial projects for the region, but it does say projections and planning can change should there be any economic activity that would boost the region’s population.

Any large scale contemplated changes to school facilities in Kitimat would require the involvement of the public, something emphasized by Kitimat school trustee Margaret Warcup when the report was discussed at the school board’s September 27 meeting.

“I understand that the ministry has criteria about space utilization, but there’s missing comments about innovative use of school space… and in particular looking at replacements of elementary schools, there’s not enough in there for me about Strong Start space and Early Year space in terms of good practices coming in,” Warcup added.

While the report does lay out a timeline beginning next year for planning and construction of new facilities, there’s no guarantee when anything might happen because project financing comes from the province.

Still, school district secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron said the district is demonstrating its readiness.

“By putting the fact that we are ready to start consultation in 2018, it says to the ministry and the public, if the ministry was to approve our capital plan, we are ready to go,” she said.

“Some districts may want a placeholder, like ‘eventually we are going to want to replace this, not right now, but sometime in the next five years’. But what we are saying is ‘today, now, we are ready to go.’

“That’s why we put 2018. It may or may not happen then, but it’s just saying that we are ready as soon as ministry would grant the funds,” said Cameron.