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We’re heading towards 400 portables in our school district, reinforcing the urgent need for more schools, including along the new SkyTrain route: Councillor Linda Annis

 Surrey, B.C. (April 26, 2023): With the Surrey School Board now looking at stacking portables to save space, Surrey First Councillor Linda Annis says she will introduce a notice of motion at city council next week that calls on city hall, the school board and the provincial government to work together to take a “zero tolerance approach” to the growing number of portables in BC’s largest school district.

“We’re heading towards 400 portables in our city, and it takes about five years to plan, approve, fund, build and open a new school,” said Annis when she heard the school board was looking at stacking portables to save schoolyard space.

“The reality is, the only way to get out in front of this ongoing issue is to build more schools and build then faster. Surrey parents and their children deserve schools, not permanent portables. Today in Surrey, we just take portables for granted, and that’s not good enough when you’ve got a school district like ours with such predictable growth. Rationing the number of new schools is no way to treat our city’s taxpayers. We’re missing the mark and city hall, the school board, and the province need to work together to correct this issue that’s only growing every single year. Permanent portables are not acceptable. Portables should be temporary, but here in Surrey they have been part of the landscape. Knowing the current timeframe to get a new school, and the shortage of land along the new SkyTrain route between Surrey and Langley, we should also be introducing some innovative school solutions along the route, including the potential of building schools into proposed tower projects.”

Annis said one of the best solutions she’s seen for delivering schools faster and more efficiently is the work being done by Vancouver-based Concert Infrastructure. The company is at work in other provinces and bundles multiple school construction projects and builds them at one time. As a result, the private sector partner is responsible for delivering the schools on time, on budget, with savings to taxpayers because of the efficiencies that come with economies of scale and bulk buying.

“Their model works, and it means schools are being built faster and at less cost to taxpayers,” noted Annis. “In addition, their school designs allow for modular additions that are actually part of the school, unlike portables that are parked next door. At the same time, the private sector partner is responsible for maintenance and upkeep. The fact is, governments are notorious when it comes to not keeping up with maintenance, particularly when budgets are tight. As a result, they will often simply defer the work that’s needed. In the Concert Infrastructure model, the private sector partner doesn’t have that option and as a result maintenance and upkeep are not allowed to slide.”

Annis said she would also like to see city hall create a “serious fast track” process and team to work on making sure the city isn’t part of the problem when it comes to land assembly, zoning and permits so that schools can be built faster and more efficiently.

“Our city is growing, and that’s a good thing, but the current model for school construction isn’t delivering what we need when we need it,” said Annis. “We shouldn’t be afraid to look for good ideas in other places, and for me the Concert Infrastructure model in other provinces would be a good place to start. If we don’t think outside of the existing process, then we shouldn’t be surprised when portables are still with us a decade from now. They don’t have to be, but we need to do things differently and the city, school board and province all have a part to play, particularly the provincial government.”