Candace Spilsbury, chair of the school board in Cowichan Valley, says it is fun to be focused on growth. (File photo)

Candace Spilsbury, chair of the school board in Cowichan Valley, says it is fun to be focused on growth. (File photo)

Expansion, new schools on the horizon for Cowichan Valley School District

Increased enrolment and new development creating a need for more school spaces

For years, the talk around the Cowichan Valley was about school closures. There were just not enough students in certain parts of the region to necessitate all of the elementary schools that the Cowichan Valley School District had as assets. Truth be told some of the schools, like A.B. Greenwell in Lake Cowichan for example, weren’t really assets at all. Infested with mould, it was more of a liability.

Thus, schools like Greenwell, along with Koksilah Elementary, Yount Elementary, Stanley Gordon, J.H. Boyd, as well as Somenos and Cowichan Station rural traditional schools were closed.

With enrolment now on the rise, the Cowichan Valley school board has passed its amended five year capital plan bylaw which includes two significant requests to the province.

First, a requests for additional classroom space — additions, not portables — at Maple Bay, Palsson, Tansor and Alex Aitken elementary schools, which are beginning to near their intended capacities.

“The Ministry of Education pays for construction, for example: additions, less whatever the board can contribute,” explained Cowichan Valley School District spokesman Mike Russell.

The school board is also seeking funding for two new elementary schools, one each in the Bell McKinnon, south zone and Maple Bay areas, which are expected to have increased enrolment demands in the future thanks to major commercial and residential developments in the works in those areas.

There are 8,331 full time enrolled students attending Cowichan Valley School District schools and programs this year — up 400 from the projections.

Freshly re-elected board chair Candace Spilsbury said to be focused on growth after years of cuts “is more than fun, it’s exhilarating for me.”

Being a school trustee for 16 years, and board chair for 10 of them, Spilsbury admitted that there’s always ups and downs and issues and challenges.

“Those years of closures were definitely a downside,” she said. “Now it’s just so exiting that we are moving upward in enrolment, and upward in our attention to students. Facilities are not driving us anymore, they’re supporting our endeavours in increasing our education outcomes for our students.”

Spilsury noted that any timelines for any construction work would be enrolment driven, despite already having submitted applications for the work to be authorized.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the process,” she said. “Our environmental plans indicate that we will continue to grow. If we get a lot more students and we don’t have space at a particular school, then we’ll have to decide how we handle those students. We like neighbourhood schools. We like keeping children near home with their friends and their families.”

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