New school for Sun Peaks moves up one place on district’s priority list

The Sun Peaks Elementary School added an additional portable last year to accommodate its growing size. File photo.

Sun Peaks has moved one place up the queue for getting a new school. 

Jenny Hawes, president of the Sun Peaks Education Society, said this is a welcome development, even though being on the list doesn’t translate into a clear timeline for when a school will actually be built. (The province needs to agree to fund it for that to become a reality.)  

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “Having us on the list is evidence that all the community partners are on the same page, in that we understand the urgency and the need for this community to have a K to 12 school.” 

Hawes added that not long ago, Sun Peaks wasn’t even on the capital list, so being on it is a positive thing. 

Kelvin Stretch, secretary-treasurer of School District 73 (SD 73), said the community rose one place on the district’s capital build list because Pineview Valley has proceeded to the next phase of the (eventual) construction process. 

The province has asked the district to create a business plan for the Pineview school, and under relatively new guidelines, it is no longer counted on the capital build list.  

“As far as the ministry is concerned, as part of their new guidelines, we don’t put it on our capital list, because the school is considered in works,” said Stretch. 

SD 73 is currently looking to build five schools. They follow, in order of priority: an elementary school in Batchelor Heights, a secondary school in Aberdeen, an elementary school in Juniper Ridge west, a K-12 school in Sun Peaks and an elementary school in Aberdeen East.

An overcrowding issue is at the heart of all the builds, with the school that students who live in Batchelor Heights attend currently (Westmount elementary) at 164 per cent capacity. 

With respect to the construction of the Pineview Valley Elementary school, Stretch said the district aims to develop a budget over the next year and get approval on it from the Ministry of Education at this time next year. 

Stretch added that there is therefore no timeline for when the other schools on the district’s capital build list will be built. 

He noted that SD 73’s capital build list is considered alongside the capital build lists of the 53 other school districts in the province. 

“They look at the projects to see which of the new schools are most pressing, which ones require a greater sense of urgency, and those are slowly approved,” said Stretch. 

A full list of the province’s recent investments in schools can be found here. 

SD 73 is dealing with significant growth in recent years, having added around eight portables for each of the last five years to accommodate around 1,200 students who have been added over those years. 

Sun Peaks Elementary is currently dealing with overcrowding issues of its own, and the municipality is working closely with the school and the district to come up with an interim solution until more portables can be added to the proposed new school site. It is on the east side of the east village (next to the current public works yard).

The deal would see Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) lease space for two classrooms in the building to the school district. The aim is to limit the arrangement to the 2021-22 school year, as long-term plans for the Sun Peaks Centre involve hosting community and tourism-related events and conferences.

“The basics of the agreement are in place, we just have to arrive at a price that is going to work for Sun Peaks and for the school district,” said Stretch. 

While the site has electricity, it does not have sewer. The municipality is therefore hoping to win grant funding to add sewer to this site over the next year, with the aim of having the site fully serviced and ready for new portables in fall 2022-23. 

Hawes added that the district’s decision to add a portable to the elementary school has helped alleviate the crunch, there is still a need for a more space. She said that this is especially true for younger grades, which tend to have larger enrollment numbers than later grades. 

In May, SPIN reported that Sun Peaks Elementary currently has 125 students, with projections of 149 students next year. Ten students are currently on the waitlist. There are an additional 21 students at the Sun Peaks Secondary Academy (Grades 10-12)   

That’s up from 18 students in 2010-11, its fledgling year when the school was just Kindergarten to Grade 5.

SPMRM is currently negotiating a deal with SD 73 that would see two classes of Sun Peaks School students receive their education in the Sun Peaks Centre over the 2021-22 school year.

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