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Surrey students spending ‘years’ in portables

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

At 25 students on average, 7,000 students are stuck learning inside a portable classroom in Surrey. 
(Surrey School District photo)

At 25 students on average, 7,000 students are stuck learning inside a portable classroom in Surrey. (Surrey School District photo)

Put all the portable classrooms in Surrey School District together and you’ll get the 24th largest school district in B.C.

So says the south Fraser municipality, which spends $4 million each year on maintaining the tiny portable boxes.

Doug Strachan, spokesman for the Surrey School District, said on Monday the vast majority of schools in the city do have portables attached. Many of them are considered long-term additions to schools, facing what seems to be an endless wait until new wings, or entire new school sites are built.

“The more temporary type of portable would be where there’s an addition being built onto a school ... while the construction is going on because of the necessity to move students out of classrooms,” he said.

Strachan estimates the district has about 280 portables, each containing an average of 25 students. Each costs about $100,000 to replace as they age — much of the annual costs go into moving them around to different schools, as they’re needed.

Some schools have more than a dozen portables each. Hazelgrowth Elementary, for example, has 19 portables. Fraser Heights Secondary has 14. Adams Road Elementary has 13. And so on.

But the issue isn’t that Surrey hasn’t received any new school space — it has — just not fast enough.

Between September 2013 and now, according to the school district, three schools opened up and another two received new building “additions” to add more space, totalling 1,840 new spaces at a cost of $59 million.

More schools have been planned. According to an active projects report delivered to the school board last week, in the books are four new school additions and another two new facilities — secondary schools — for Clayton North and Grandview Heights.

Laurie Larsen, vice chairwoman of the Surrey School Board, said some schools have no more room to place portables — pointing to the example of Earl Marriott Secondary, where the school day was extended to accommodate more students.

“We aren’t allowed to base what we need when we see upcoming development ... the government won’t even look at building a new school until every school in the area is 110% capacity,” she said.

“Some students spent their entire school years in a portable and they can’t help but feel they’re not part of the school.”

Larsen said money for portables is inefficient — the footprint of schools are increased and operations, such as power and cleaning, cost more compared to having everything in one building.

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