Brandon may soon need 2 new schools as space becomes scarce, trustees warn

Schools in Brandon are bursting at the seams and school board trustees in Manitoba's second-largest city warn they'll soon need two new schools, not just one.

11 of division's 19 K-8 schools at or above 100% capacity, 3 others more than 90% full

Linda Ross is the board chair of the Brandon School Division's board of trustees. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Schools in Brandon are bursting at the seams and school board trustees in Manitoba's second-largest city warn they'll soon need two new schools, not just one.

"We're really stretching the envelope here," said Linda Ross, board chair of the Brandon School Division. "The numbers just keep going up every year." 

According to data provided by the school division, 11 of its 19 K-8 schools are at or above 100 per cent capacity. Another three are more than 90 per cent full. 

Ross said 700 new kindergarten students started in Brandon last week. The division, so far, has seen an increase of more than 200 students from last year, to a total of more than 8,700 students as of Monday. That number is forecast to hit more than 9,300 by 2021. 

Nearly 49,000 people called Brandon home as of 2016, according to census data. Along with expected population growth, the city has seen growth from newcomers arriving to work at Maple Leaf Foods and in other sectors. Many have since brought families to the city.

Space shortage becoming dire 

While finding space for all of these new students has been an issue for years, it's becoming more dire the longer Brandon waits for a new kindergarten to Grade 8 school.

"In some schools we don't have a staff room anymore," Ross said, adding that Brandon School Division has been forced to get creative in finding new classroom space. The division was denied a request for new portables — temporary classrooms — for this school year, meaning it can only use existing space to house students.

Some students are sent to Brandon University for music classes as music rooms have been turned into classrooms. At other schools, resource rooms have moved into hallways and other rooms have been split in half to make two separate rooms. 

"That's not good," Ross said. "That shouldn't be happening. We're looking at every kind of nook and cranny where we can create more classroom space to put more kids." 

Ross, a trustee in Brandon for more than two decades, said the enrolment increases were something the division started forecasting several years ago, when trustees began pushing for the province to build a new K-8 school.  

"We've been hoping and optimistic that we will get a new school for a few years and then the rug gets pulled out from under us," Ross said, adding that the time to build was at least two years ago. 

"This needs to happen sooner rather than later because I don't know where we're going to put these kids."

The Manitoba government asked for expressions of interest earlier this year for public-private partnerships to build several new schools in Manitoba, including one in Brandon, but beyond that, trustees haven't heard anything new, Ross said.

New high school 

And soon, all of those new elementary students will get to high school. 

"In about three or four years we're going to feel that pressure at [the] high schools," Ross said, adding that it will soon be time to talk about building another new school.

While Brandon is not the first division to have school space issues, Ross said other districts across Canada have turned to options such as staggered start and end times for students when space completely runs out. 

"I hope that it doesn't come to that," she said. "I think that parents will be enraged if that starts to happen." 

Ross cautioned that the space crunch could affect the quality of education in Brandon. 

"It's a little bit horrifying," she said. "Public education is what we do and we need to do it well."