March 11,2007 - Tri City News

By Diane Strandberg The Tri-City News
Mar 11 2007

Thousands of surplus spaces in local schools will have to be addressed before seismic and new construction will be approved, a School District 43 report predicts.

The 2005 report by Matrix Planning Associates predicts as many as 4,700 surplus spaces by 2013 – 3,000 at the elementary level – and school utilization rates 10% below the 95% threshold required for new construction.

Although the Matrix enrolment figures were used to show declining enrolment and school utilization rates in the latest round of Tri-City school closures, the need to cut surplus spaces to get approval for seismic or new construction wasn’t used to justify school closures in Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam last month.

But the Matrix report clearly states that with more than $70 million in seismic repairs at stake, as well as the need for new schools on Burke Mountain, the district will have to show the provincial government it is doing a good job managing school utilization rates.

To get approval for seismic repairs and new construction, the school district must follow a rigourous procurement process and provide a business case for construction projects.

“Over the next few years, many CSD [Coquitlam school district] schools will require significant capital investment for both seismic upgrading and functional rejuvenation,” the report states. “It is likely that feasibility studies will indicate that replacement is more cost effective for many of the schools studied.

“As a result, CSD will need to examine the utilization of each school being renovated, as well as adjacent schools as part of the feasibility studies related to determining not only the amount of capital to spend but also the advisability of the investment. The ministry may not approve upgrades for schools with low utilization”

Matrix used forecasting models that analysed population data from a combination of the birth registry as well as the Family Allowance and Child Tax Benefits, historical averages of net migration and birth, and local knowledge from the cities, including details of 17 major residential developments. After crunching the numbers, it came up with two projections, one conservative and one predicting a faster build-out rate. Those numbers were used to predict school utilization rates into the future.


Here are some of the report’s conclusions and suggestions.

• Overall utilization will be at 85% in 2013 – a drop from the 89% projected for 2008 and below the 95% education ministry threshold. This equates to a surplus of more than 4,700 spaces in 2013. (Note: These numbers don’t take into account the closure in June of five elementary schools with a capacity of about 1,000 spaces.)

• Utilization rates at elementary schools are predicted to be 78% in 2013, for middle schools 90%, and 91% for secondary schools if Burke Mountain secondary is built and there is no extended day.

• The “construction of the new Burke Mountain secondary and the need to upgrade many school facilities may necessitate the review of catchment boundaries and the consideration of other options.”

• In order to “meet the 95% minimum threshold in 2013, CSD wold require addressing more than 3,100 surplus spaces.”

• There will be a surplus of nearly 1,000 secondary school spaces If Burke Mountain secondary is built but a shortage of 1,000 spaces if it isn’t.

• It may be necessary to “reduce the number of existing middle school spaces to justify the construction of proposed new middle schools at Heritage Mountain and Burke Mountain.”

• The low utilization of elementary schools “would be further exacerbated if one or more new elementary schools were to be approved by the ministry and built as part of the new development in Northeast Coquitlam.”


• Partnerships can extend the use of schools and other facilities and provide an alternative source of funding.

• Surplus property can become a “valuable tool to advance a wide range of facilities initiatives.”

• School district officials should “remain in regular contact with local government planners to remain current on the evolving nature of future housing projects.”