West Shore wins approval for new schools to replace aging Belmont Secondary
Replacements for aging Belmont to be built in Langford and Colwood
It took a student walkout, a petition and years of work by parents and politicians, but the West Shore has finally won approval for two new high schools to serve its rapidly growing population.
Education Minister George Abbott received a standing ovation from students at aging Belmont Secondary School Monday in announcing the estimated $100-million project.
“I would acknowledge that, as I was tripping over your duct tape walking down the hallway, quite possibly your bricks and mortar is getting a little bit tired,” he joked before giving students the good news.
The announcement came as Premier Christy Clark rolled out a $353-million plan to expand or build new schools across the province. Surrey, the fastest-growing district in B.C., received approval for eight projects.
Abbott approved Sooke school district’s plan to build one new high school at Royal Bay in Colwood as well as a replacement for Belmont at the site of former Glen Lake Elementary in Langford. Belmont will then be demolished, the property sold for an estimated $30 million, and the money put toward the overall cost of the new schools. The province will kick in the other $70 million.
Sooke board of education chairwoman Wendy Hobbs said officials hope to open both schools within the next four years. “Sometimes things can be fast-tracked,” she said. “I think now the work has just begun.”
The district estimates that its school population of 9,000 students will grow 55 per cent over the next 15 years, adding 325 students annually.
The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by students, business leaders and politicians alike.
Stephen Whipp, vicepresident of the West Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the prospect of two new high schools will be a boon for economic development.
He said a number of businesses have bypassed the region in recent years because of overcrowded, crumbling schools.
“You hear that all the time,” he said. “Large employers who come in here, they love the area. But they go, ‘We can’t ask our employees to put their kids in a school that’s falling down.’ ”
Grade 12 student Ravi Parmar used Belmont’s sorry condition to good effect last year, starting a petition and leading a walkout of 800 students to press their demands for new schools.
Parmar eventually took his case directly to Abbott, complaining of floors held down with duct tape and ceilings with missing tiles.
Parmar said Monday that he is proud of what he and his fellow students achieved for future generations, including his younger brother and sister.
“I hope they’ll get to have a great education like I did and new school facilities — and, hopefully, they will now,” he said.
Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan, who sits in Opposition with the NDP, said the decision transcends politics and was simply the right thing to do.
“I hope that it will erase that cynicism that says, ‘If you don’t vote for the government, you won’t get any money.’ I think that is something that I’ve been fighting against for six years, trying to convince people that good public policy is good public policy.
“It doesn’t matter how you vote.”