LOOKING BACK/AHEAD: Hopes high for New Westminster schools project

The New Westminster schools project is a continuing story to rival any soap opera that could be called The Young and The Schoolless.

Talk of replacing New Westminster secondary (NWSS) has been going on for more than a decade. Then the possibility of a middle school got thrown into the mix, and now a new elementary is in the works.

In 2011, strides were made to make it all happen. Land exchanges were worked out. Agreements made, although some are still to come.

Maybe, just maybe, in 2012 a shovel will actually be put in the ground.

Projects coordinator Jim Alkins says now that the final documentation has come through for the land swaps between the school district and the city at the St. Mary’s elementary site and NWSS, they can be taken to the land titles office. When that’s completed, then it will be possible for Alkins and the district to go to the Ministry of Education with a project agreement for the province to approve.

“That’s the key document that everybody’s waiting for. Once you have a project agreement then the district has the authority to spend money and begin construction,” says Alkins.

Waiting for that day to happen has required patience. More is required, but impatience is seeping in and threatening to become a flood.

The plan calls for construction to commence in 2012 for an elementary school on the old St. Mary’s Hospital site. Once that’s up, then about 200 elementary students at John Robson can be moved to St. Mary’s so it can come down and be replaced with a new middle school. Once that’s built, then about 200 Grade 8s that currently attend NWSS can be moved to Robson to lessen the load at NWSS, which will have to continue operating while its replacement is being constructed. When that will be is a multi-million dollar question.

If construction at St. Mary’s can get underway fairly early in 2012, it will have a target opening for fall of 2013.

“It may take a little bit longer depending on site difficulties,” says Alkins.

The plans for Robson are close to being finalized as well. That’s not the case with NWSS, even though the three projects are tied together. There are a myriad of details on NWSS that will still need to be worked out before it can get the go-ahead.

For one, the city and school district are still working on what enhancements to include in the new theatre. More investigation on what environmental risks might exist at NWSS has to be carried out, since in previous lifetimes the land was used as a city works yard and a hospital. Also, in one corner of the property there was a cemetery, so further investigation has to be carried out to determine if there are human remains there, said Alkins.

“It’s an important project, a big project, and there are a number of elements to it.”

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