British Columbia

B.C. schools not keeping up with population changes

With classrooms set to open next week, some parents and students are being forced to find schools outside their neighbourhoods.

Officials in Vancouver and Surrey say school planning seems to always be playing catch-up

Portables dot Surrey schools, some Vancouver schools overcrowded 2:20

School officials say some Lower Mainland parents are being forced to find schools for their children outside their neighbourhoods because the B.C. government is ignoring population shifts.

Vancouver School Board Chair Patti Bacchus says the ebb and flow of population changes are being poorly managed by the B.C. government, and students in high-density areas in downtown Vancouver, including Yaletown and False Creek, are still waiting for classrooms this year.

"People are living downtown because they want that car-free lifestyle, and then we're telling them they can't get into the school that's maybe a block or two from their home," Bacchus said.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says her city's school infrastructure planning is also missing the mark, as the B.C. government waits until enough students are in a new community before building a school, and that lag time can sometimes seem too long.

"When we plan a community, we plan a school in the community and so it's challenge, and hopefully we can change some of those old public policy pieces," she told CBC News.

Officials with Surrey's school board said it takes five years to plan and build a new school, meaning it is often playing catch-up: Hazelgrove Elementary opened in 2009 in the newer Clayton neighbourhood in Surrey, but it already has more than a dozen portables.

Surrey's school board says it expects to use around 265 portable classrooms this year, which is down from the 370 or so it had in-use in the late 1990s. (CBC)

But, the Surrey school board says it is also seeing improvements. The B.C. government has recently kicked-in money and another new school will open in the Clayton area next year.

The school board also says that, overall, portable use is declining: It expects to use 265 portables across the district this year, which is down from the 370 or so that it used in the late 1990s.

B.C.'s Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender says his staff will be working more closely with civic officials to track and respond to area population changes.

"So that we know when pressure points are coming that we can be ready to move in a much faster way than we have in the past," he told CBC News.

With files from the CBC's Meera Bains