Portables not ready as school starts in Greater Victoria

In some of the province’s school districts, the bigger problem isn’t the need for more portables, but that the necessary portables aren’t ready as classes start.

Students have class in the gymnasium at École Willows Elementary

Two portables being built on site at Victoria's École Willows Elementary School on August 21. These portables are part of a pilot project by School District 61 to design and build their own portables. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

Portables are a constant source of controversy in schools and with the changes to B.C.'s classroom formula this year, these overflow classroom spaces are becoming more and more common across the province.  

Premier John Horgan, when he was still in opposition last year, pledged to cut the number of portables in the Surrey School District in half in his first two years of term. Instead, the district now has about 325 portables, which is up from about 270 last year.

The 2016 Supreme Court of Canada judgement to restore class sizes to the 2002 levels means fewer students per class and, as a result, more classrooms are needed to accomodate them.  

In some of the province's school districts, the bigger problem isn't that more portables are being built — it's that the portables aren't ready as classes start.

Two groups of students at École Willows Elementary are having class in the gym while they wait for the portables to be done. (Nicole Crescenzi/CBC)

At several schools in the Greater Victoria area, portables are still weeks away from being finished so students are left squeezing into shared spaces for class. At École Willows Elementary, for example, the gym is being used to accommodate the two classes that will later transfer to portables.

Mark Walsh, the secretary treasurer of the Greater Victoria School District, said the final product will be worth the delay. Two of the portables for Willows are prototypes, built by district staff.  

"We've got the pitched roof, lots of natural light, multiple doors," Walsh said. "We really want to make sure that when our students are in portable space, that it's really the highest quality and some place that the district can be very proud to educate our kids in."

In some of the province’s school districts, the bigger problem isn’t the need for more portables but that the necessary portables aren’t ready as classes start. 7:55

Teaching in a portable 

For some teachers, the portables will remain problematic — even when they are finished and ready to use.

Jason Gammon, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, said more portables means more students and less time in common spaces like gyms, libraries and computer labs.

"Not only are portables less than ideal as teaching spaces but they put schools over capacity," he said.

"That just means more students trying to get through those common spaces on a weekly basis when those spaces weren't designed to handle that volume of students."

Listen to Course Correction: Beginning the new era of B.C. education on CBC Radio 1 from Sept. 5 to 8, 2017.