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Is the Burnaby school district unprepared for development in Brentwood?

Parents are concerned about overcrowded schools, but the school board has been 'very proactive' about making sure the province knows what Burnaby needs, says secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill.

A couple expecting their first child took to Reddit recently to get feedback on whether settling in Burnaby’s Brentwood neighbourhood is a good idea.

Fellow redditors had lots to say, but overcrowded schools was a common theme, and they said the problem is only going to get worse once the many condo towers under construction in Brentwood fill with more families.

“There are no new schools in the area,” said one commenter. “Big oversight on the part of the city and school district. The old school at Brentwood Park can’t take all the new kids.”

“Brentwood Park Elementary is massively overpacked,” read another post.

“It’ll come down to the schools around the area,” read a third. “You’ll have to do your own research for that part, but I’ve heard where there’s mega tower developments, the school districts have been unprepared.”

Julia Browning, mother of a Brentwood Park Elementary School student, has lived in a condo in the neighbourhood for about four years.

She told the NOW some students were put into temporary classrooms in the school’s library and gym while the district was adding portables to deal with increased enrolment.

“My son once a month will come home and say, ‘Oh, I have a new kid in my class; oh, I have a new kid in my class,’” Browning said.

With all this “quick growth,” she said she’s concerned, not just about a lack of space, but also about continuity for her son’s education and a shortage of teaching resources, like teachers and education assistants.

“It’s hard for the school when they have so many new kids starting that aren’t planned for,” Browning said.

‘We tend to have to outgrow our schools’

But the need for a new school in the Brentwood town centre has long been on the school district’s radar, according to secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill.

He pointed to the district’s 2018 long range facilities plan, which projected the development-driven enrolment tsunami and outlined the need for new schools, especially in the Brentwood and Lougheed town centres.

And the district’s annual five-year capital plans have included requests to the province for money to buy land and build new schools.

“We were well aware the growth was coming,” Horswill said in an interview with the NOW. “I would say that the board has been very proactive in identifying the needs and moving those capital requests forward.”

If Brentwood schools are overcrowded, longtime school trustee Larry Hayes suggested it isn’t the school district’s lack of planning but the province’s approach to funding new schools that’s to blame.

“We all know, and I think everybody in Burnaby knows, there’s going to be tremendous growth at Lougheed, tremendous growth at Metrotown, tremendous growth in Edmonds and tremendous growth in Brentwood,” Hayes told a public school board meeting Tuesday, “but the government, from what I understand, aren’t going to just say, ‘OK, we’re going to give you a new school in each of those areas because of the potential of that growth.’”

Horswill agreed.

“Yes, we tend to have to outgrow our schools, which results in portable classrooms being installed, and once you’ve grown enough and there’s enough portables, it then gets to justify either school additions or brand new replacement schools or new schools,” he said at the meeting. “Building schools on the anticipation isn’t necessarily something that’s supported.”

That being said, the district’s long-range facilities plan is a “very important document,” according to Horswill, and has had “significant impact” in the district’s conversation with government about Burnaby’s needs.

Brentwood town centre school site?

The district has just launched public consultations for a new long-range plan, starting with an in-person drop-in session about the district’s central west zone tonight (Jan. 25) between 5 and 8 p.m. at the school board office (4054 Norfolk St).

There will be four such sessions, one for each zone, where parents, students and the general public can give input on growth and potential solutions for dealing with it.

In a discussion document for Brentwood North, the district says a new school is needed for Brentwood town centre and a new school site needs to be secured, but there is a lack of available land.

The masterplan for Concord Brentwood, a development that will see a total of 10 condo towers and retail space built in a former industrial area south of Lougheed Highway, has long included a “proposed school” site in its promotional materials.

The site is a vacant piece of city owned land at 4900 Dawson St.

One commenter on Reddit linked to the master plan and said Concord “is putting in a school at their development.”

But Horswill said no decisions have yet been made about the future school’s location.

“All options are being considered, including tower schools, standalone schools and looking for other ways to work with the community to get a school into that area,” he said. “There’s very limited land available within the town centre development, so it’s been a challenge.”

When asked whether the district has talked to the city about the Dawson Street site, Horswill sidestepped the question.

“The district is in ongoing conversations all the time with the City of Burnaby,” he said. “We work quite closely together to look at school land issues in all four town centres.”

To have your say on the school district’s long-range facilities plan, drop in on an in-person session or give feedback online by visiting the school district website.

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Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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