Secretary-treasure Nicole Bittante distributes the boundary catchment report to chair Ian Hargreaves (left), superintendent Tom Demeo and assistant superintendent Geoff Manning at the Feb. 18 committee of the whole meeting. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Changes recommended for four Comox Valley schools to ease capacity

Possible measures include cross-boundary transfer closures, modular buildings

Space has become an issue at some Comox Valley schools and forced School District 71 to look for some solutions.

On Tuesday night at a committee of the whole meeting, staff presented trustees with a report on the space issues, primarily at four local schools, and some recommendations on how to respond.

These recommendations were put together with input from the school communities during sessions at the schools in November and in January, and from an online survey with more than 1,700 respondents.

“This report’s coming out to a board that, for the most part… the majority attended every single consultation and read every single survey, every single email, every single text, so they’re very well-versed in everything,” said board chair Ian Hargreaves.

For some schools, decisions involve adding portable or modular buildings to deal with over-capacity, as well as applying for capital funding to expand the school sites.

“We find ourselves in a unique situation where the population continues to grow,” superintendent Tom Demeo told the board of education.

RELATED STORY: Survey response to school catchment review already strong in Comox Valley district

Other measures include moving some students to middle school a grade earlier and closing off cross-boundary transfers for students, the latter of which was suggested for each of the four schools: Royston Elementary, Cumberland Community School, Huband Park Elementary and Miracle Beach Elementary. Each is facing capacity issues to varying degrees. The report includes each school’s capacity and adjusted capacity including modular buildings. Royston’s operating capacity is 205 (or 255 adjusted), but its projected enrolment from 2020 through 2024 runs from 289 to 368.

For Cumberland, which includes elementary and middle school students, the capacity is 545 (595), with enrolment running from 571 to 746.

Huband Park’s space allows for 364 (389), with students ranging from 400 this year to 439 in 2024.

Miracle Beach has room for 229 (254) while student numbers are 260 for 2020 and up to 280 in 2024.

District staff narrowed the many ideas received down to a small number of options to consider.

“There’s so many variables and so many options we could make,” Demeo said.

For Royston, the recommendations are to keep Grade 6 students at the school, add a modular building this year and plan for capital expansion.

At Cumberland, the recommendations are similar but also include moving Grade 9 students to Vanier Secondary, renovating a classroom in the Strathcona building to create space for students while leaving the annex building for community use.

For Miracle Beach, the suggestions revolve around repurposing space in the computer lab and renovating a classroom to make additional room for students. Another question is whether the school should continue to feed Vanier at the secondary level or switch to Highland. The recommendation is to continue with Vanier.

Finally, at Huband Park, several recommendations address cross-boundary transfers, including closing them off to siblings. Students currently in grades 6 and 7 would be grandfathered to complete elementary years at Huband. As well, starting in 2021, all other cross-boundary transfers would be rescinded, with students returning to catchment schools to finish elementary grades, and if families of cross-boundary transfer students at Huband choose to move in 2020 to catchment schools, the district will make arrangements. Huband students would continue to go to Vanier after Grade 7.

Many of the changes, if approved by the board, will be implemented for this September, though a few will be staggered. The report also notes measures to consider next such as closing transfers at the secondary level again and adjusting international student enrolment to help balance numbers. Another factor is timing around when modular buildings at Hornby Island Community School will be available once the community’s new building is complete.

RELATED STORY: Province announces new school for Hornby Island; $27 million in upgrades to Lake Trail

Board members did express concern over issues such as the effect on childcare programs at schools if cross-boundary transfers are closed and the timeline for changes. Another concern was how Grade 8 students at Cumberland might feel with little notice that they will be sent to Vanier earlier than expected, though some suggesting delaying the move a year.

“It will now potentially be their last four months at the school,” said trustee Michelle Waite.

At the conclusion, Demeo said the board could consider the recommendations as a package or as separate elements. The report can be found online at the Comox Valley Schools website.

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