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‘We are losing time’; need for new high school in Kelowna becoming more urgent

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According to a recent Statistics Canada report, Kelowna is one of the fastest-growing cities in all of Canada.

And with that growth come challenges, including the pressure that a larger population will have on schools, many of which are nearing or already at capacity.

“All of our schools are actually significantly overcapacity and the only reason that we currently have some available space is due to the portables that we’ve been adding,” said Ryan Stierman, secretary-treasurer/chief financial officer with School District 23.

Read more: Central Okanagan population growth has schools bursting at the seams: survey

Kelowna has three high schools: Kelowna Secondary School (KSS), Rutland Senior Secondary (RSS) and Okanagan Mission Secondary (OKM). However, all three are expected to run out of room by 2025.

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The school district is desperately hoping to build a new high school on an eight-acre parcel of land which it owns, next to the Apple Bowl, at the corner of Bernard Avenue and Burtch Road.

That is the site of the former Dr. Knox school.

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“Currently, there is a proposal that is before the government of British Columbia, and we are hoping to receive an approval on this because it’s very urgently needed,” Stierman told Global News.

The Central Okanagan Board of Education has been applying for funding to build a new school for eight years now, but has been denied every year.

“I think it’s very concerning,” Stierman said. “Typically, a secondary school will take three to four years to construct after it’s been approved. And so if you look at kind of where we’re at … we are losing time.”

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In a statement to Global News, the Ministry of Education said “our government is committed to ensuring every student in B.C. can attend a safe school and investing in new student spaces to accommodate growth. We know there is significant growth in the Central Okanagan.”

The statement reinforced that commitment by pointing out two middle schools the government has funded since 2019.

That includes a new 600-seat middle school in Lake Country that was announced in early 2018, as well as the new 750-space Canyon Falls Middle School that opened in Kelowna in 2019.

Read more: Construction starts on new Lake Country middle school

But the statement failed to mention anything about the urgent need for a new secondary school in Kelowna.

“The Kelowna area is the fourth fastest metropolitan area in Canada and so we are anticipating this growth to continue,” Stierman said.

“Our projections for Kelowna Secondary show it growing by 10 per cent over the next three years at that school.”

With the addition of portables over the years, KSS can accommodate 1,800 students, but 1,840 actually attend the school.

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Janine Bristowe is a parent of a KSS student.

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“It’s full,” she said. “I mean buses are full, classes are full. They’re doing the best they can with what they have, but where are these kids going to go?”

And while changes, such as a cap on international students and the expansion of French Immersion to OKM are being implemented to alleviate some of the pressure at KSS, the need for a new high school will only get more urgent with time.

It’s a reality that’s not sitting well with Bristowe.

“These are our leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “These are the kids building the future B.C. They need to have some investment in them.”

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The school district is already considering options if funding is not approved soon.

“The district is going to have to be creative,” Stierman said. “We’re going to have to look at space that previously was used for other purposes.

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“We’re going to have to use that for instruction: field space. There’s a lot of different options that are not ideal that we’re going to have to move forward on until such time we get a new high school.”

The approximate cost to build a new high school in Kelowna is pegged at $120 million.

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