With enrolment of 15,000-plus students projected for each of the next three years, Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district wants to get started on consultation on solutions for class space.
The district recorded 14,775 students last fall, 415 full-time students more than estimated, and that trend is anticipated to continue with 15,293 students forecast for 2022-23, 15,583 students in 2023-24 and 15,709 in 2024-25, according to a staff report.
At a Feb. 9 business committee meeting, school trustees unanimously recommended proceeding with consultation, with staff anticipated to report back either in spring or fall.
One of the options in a staff report is adding English-language instruction at École Hammond Bay and creating a regular program catchment for the current Departure Bay area. Such a move would be beneficial as it would address space issues at Departure Bay Eco-School and enable future growth at nearby Frank J. Ney Elementary, the report said. The cons are that it would include no additional spaces for French immersion and it would not fully address projected growth in north Nanaimo coming over the next decade, said the report.
The school board of the day closed Rutherford Elementary in 2018, with some students moved to Ney Elementary, and another option in the report suggests re-opening Rutherford and adjusting Ney’s catchment zone to assist Departure Bay.
While Rutherford was designated as a “swing space” and renovated to accommodate displaced students during seismic upgrades, including from Pleasant Valley Elementary, it is also in line for seismic work itself, said the report. At the meeting, Woodlands Secondary is a swing space for Cilaire Elementary this year and Mark Walsh, district secretary-treasurer, said the old Dufferin Crescent and Woodbank schools could also serve that purpose if needed.
In addition, Rutherford would be a feeder school to Dover Bay Secondary and re-opening the elementary would affect the high school’s enrolment, staff said.
Another option to expand Departure Bay Eco-School would alleviate its space concerns and allow French immersion enrolment to increase at Hammond Bay, stated the report. However, traffic issues would arise, given road layout near the school, necessitating further costs for land and/or notable infrastructure improvements.
A less feasible option would be a new school in the Stephenson Point area. While staff said it would help Departure Bay’s space issues and ensure Frank Ney can deal with growth, it would also require significant investment. It would be cost prohibitive as it would require land to be purchased and there would be ongoing operational costs.
“I don’t think that, realistically, it would be just that easy … whenever we send the information out to the community, I think it would be good if it was clearer that it isn’t just so easy to get a new school,” trustee Jessica Stanley said at the meeting.
The recommendation to launch consultation will be forwarded to the school board’s Feb. 23 meeting.