Second Burke Mountain Elementary School a Priority for the District

From the Tri-City News article “Funding sought for second Burke elementary in Coquitlam” by Diane Strandberg:

More young families moving to Burke Mountain has prompted School District 43 to seek funding for an additional elementary school before a new school currently under construction is even completed.

On Tuesday, the board of education approved a five-year capital plan requesting the province contribute $17.8 million towards the planned Sheffield (Partington Creek) elementary, which will hold about 400 students and be located in a newly developed area to the east of Smiling Creek elementary.

Board chair Judy Shirra said elementary schools are now a top priority for Burke Mountain, along with a replacement for Minnekhada middle school, which would also serve Grade 6 to 8 Burke Mountain students even though it’s down the hill in Port Coquitlam.

“For us, Minnekhada is priority,” Shirra told The Tri-City News. “The community deserves a new school. [Current students] are the ones that are here and now, those kids deserve to go to a building that’s safe.”

The Port Coquitlam trustee said replacing Minnekhada is an urgent need because the building is old and not earthquake-proof. And while the plan for new schools on Burke Mountain may not please parents, she said Minnekhada has a lot of capacity for additional students.

Her comments mirrored those made by Ivano Cecchini, the district’s principal of facility initiatives, who told trustees the province requires schools to be at 95% capacity before new schools are built.

If the district put a new northeast Coquitlam middle school ahead of other needs, “no schools would get built,” Cecchini said.

As to why the district appears to be playing catch-up with elementary schools for the area, the shortage of affordable housing and the needs of young families appear to play heavily into decision-making.

As an example, Leigh elementary, a catchment school for Burke Mountain students, enrolled 496 students this year, up 40 from last year.

Shirra said Burke Mountain was originally envisioned as an enclave of families with older children because of the cost of the newer homes. But as more families were priced out of other areas of Metro Vancouver and secondary suites were built to act as mortgage helpers, Burke Mountain became a haven for younger families.

Consequently, the district had to do an about-face, putting a 1,000-capacity Burke Mountain secondary lower on its priority list to focus on building elementary schools.
“That’s the changing demographic on Burke Mountain,” she said.

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