Departure Bay Eco-School. Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees are discussing long-range facility planning as elementary schools fill up in the district’s north end. (News Bulletin file)

Departure Bay Eco-School. Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees are discussing long-range facility planning as elementary schools fill up in the district’s north end. (News Bulletin file)

School trustees discuss remedies for space concerns at north Nanaimo elementaries

Hypotheticals include re-opening Rutherford, expanding Departure Bay, new school in Linley Valley

With class space concerns in the northern part of Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district, trustees are looking at potential remedies.

Capacity issues in the area, which includes Rock City elementary and elementary schools along the Hammond Bay Road corridor, are part of long-range facilities plan discussions.

At a Dec. 8 business committee meeting, Mark Walsh, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools secretary-treasurer, said population is trending up. A consultant’s report from February projected enrolment to rise by 26 per cent in the next 10 years.

A staff report listed potential scenarios, which Walsh re-iterated are not currently under consideration. McGirr, Rock City, Randerson Ridge, Uplands and Departure Bay schools are all utilizing portable classrooms, he said, and École Hammond Bay, site of a French immersion program, will have its portables moved soon as an expansion project is nearing conclusion. Frank J. Ney school’s new wing opened in 2018.

“Despite that fact that we did see a pretty big shift away from bricks-and-mortar, and then a shift back … enough to get our populations normalized, we saw an increase at Departure Bay that required yet another portable this year, so we know our issues are not about to abate,” said Walsh. “This is why it’s a priority discussion [for] the long-range facilities plan.”

RELATED: SD68 projected to see 26 per cent overcapacity in next 10 years

Some of the options include adding English instruction at Hammond Bay, re-opening Rutherford Elementary, adjusting catchment boundaries of Departure Bay and Frank J. Ney, building a new school in the Linley Valley-Stephenson Point area and expanding Departure Bay school. All have pros and cons, according to the report.

While a new school at Stephenson Point would address class space at Departure Bay and make sure Frank J. Ney could sustain future growth, according to staff, trustees questioned the feasibility.

“[Nanaimo District Secondary School] is such a priority for us and Ladysmith Intermediate is a big priority for us, we’re really trying to get some work done on those schools, so I’m really skeptical that Linley Valley is a realistic option, especially with regard to time frame…” said trustee Jessica Stanley. “As is, the Rutherford and Hammond Bay options seem most viable,” said Stanley.

Walsh said the Ministry of Education is “very aware of our capacity issues” but noted that even if a new school were to be approved, it would be several years before it opened.

“Even Departure Bay expansion, which again I’m a bit more optimistic about achieving, would take four [years] at minimum if we were approved this spring,” he said.

Rutherford school would need seismic upgrades, and Stanley wondered whether those upgrades would be more or less likely than a new Linley Valley school.

“With respect to Rutherford, we would have the ability to prioritize it or not versus other schools … if we re-open it, it’s going to get [seismic work] at some point, but it could be 20 years from now given how long and extensive our list is,” said Walsh. “I don’t really want to comment on that because we’d have to determine, if it re-opened, what its level of risk is.”

Greg Keller, business committee chairperson, said staff will take information from the meeting back to the long-range facilities plan committee and develop a recommendation. There would be public consultation, he said.

According to numbers provided by the school district, Rock City had 339 students in 2020-21, Departure Bay Eco-School 345, Frank J. Ney 385, École Hammond Bay 334, McGirr 406, Randerson Ridge 439, Pleasant Valley 372 and Uplands Park 298.

RELATED: SD68 sees 415 more students than projected

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