While finishing touches are still being completed on the new Royal Bay secondary, plans are already in the works for expansion.
The school, which has been operating for about a month, is already over capacity in terms of students. While final enrolment numbers are still being firmed up, the count is sitting at roughly 20 students over the 800-student capacity.
“We notified the ministry it would not be big enough to accommodate our growth,” said Jim Cambridge, Sooke School District superintendent. He said they did this roughly three years ago during the planning stage.
Provincial NDP leader and Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan said a better job needs to be done in the planning.
“I would suggest the school board does a good job of it, but it takes so darn long to get approval for these capital projects at the ministry that by the time they’re finally ready to go, they’re too small for the needs.”
He said it speaks to a larger problem. “It took so long to get these high schools off the planning books and into construction that growth in the West Shore has surpassed the projections that the schools are based on. Now we need a new wing on a brand new high school.”
Knowing that the school would eventually need to be expanded, Cambridge said it was designed for the ability to have another wing added at the rear of the building that could accommodate roughly 400 more students, bringing the total capacity to 1,200.
“We will likely apply [for more funding] in our capital plan next year,” he said, although he wasn’t sure when and if the extra money would become available. “We don’t get any choice.”
In the meantime, the District is planning on adding portables next school year to accommodate additional students. An area in the front of the school was designed for this, Cambridge said.
In terms of this school year, he said “there’s a way for us to internally accommodate.” This means some teachers could lose a prep period.
Cambridge said every year the District grows by about 100 to 150 students, but this year the numbers unexpectedly increased by about 400. Some of that growth could be attributed to the new schools drawing students back to the District, he said.
Horgan said these problems weren’t just isolated to the West Shore. He mentioned a similar problem at Sooke elementary, which has almost 70 additional students that they weren’t counting on.
“They’ve got a whole new class that they hadn’t anticipated,” he said. “Five years ago they were going to close Sooke elementary, and now they don’t have room for all the kids who are there.”