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Record student growth in Sooke School District brings plans for more schools

A record jump in the number of new students this September has the Sooke School District looking to add more schools, even with construction underway at two new sites.
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Sooke School District superintendent Scott Stinson, left, with board chair Ravi Parmar at the construction site for two new schools on Langford’s Constellation Avenue in the Westhills area. The schools will cost a combined $88.6 million, and will be at capacity — and perhaps over-capacity — when the doors open, Parmar says. TIMES COLONIST

A record jump in the number of new students this September has the Sooke School District looking to add more schools, even with construction underway at two new sites.

Sooke School Board chairman Ravi Parmar said the district has 827 new students — the biggest increase in 30 years.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, who would have thought that a growing community like ours would break a record this year?” Parmar said.

The previous high for an enrolment increase in a school year was about 600.

This year’s almost seven per cent surge in student numbers brings the student population of the district close to 12,000. It had anticipated four per cent growth of 400 to 450 students.

Parmar said the Sooke district remains the fastest-growing per capita in the province, and younger students are a significant part of the incoming group.

“Certainly elementary always continues to be a priority, and it was fairly balanced between middle and secondary.”

Langford continues to have the most growth in the district, said Parmar, adding the two schools being built — Pexsisen Elementary School and Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School — are coming just in time. Pexsisen will hold 500 students and Centre Mountain Lellum will hold 700, with both due to open next September at a shared site on Langford’s Constellation Avenue in the Westhills area.

The schools will cost a combined $88.6 million, and will be at capacity — and perhaps over-capacity — when the doors open, Parmar said Friday during a tour of the construction area.

“We could use them right now,” he said. “That would lead to a lot of portables being decommissioned.”

Parmar said the district hopes to have funding for two additional schools in next year’s provincial budget, as need continues to mount.

Land has already been purchased for elementary schools on Latoria Road in south Langford and on Bear Mountain Parkway in north Langford, he said.

“We essentially have all the land we need,” he said. “We may need a couple of more pieces depending on growth.”

While work at Pexsisen and Centre Mountain Lellum is progressing well, student growth still poses a “daunting challenge,” said superintendent Scott Stinson.

“If that’s the pace of growth that we’re going to be experiencing now, even at the rate of these builds, we’re going to be behind.”

The growing number of students is not surprising given the rapid pace of building around the district, as families look for an affordable place to live, Stinson said. He said he has been told that Langford is on pace this year for its highest-ever rate of building-permit applications.

“Colwood is now starting to amp up on their side of it, as well, and that will put pressure on us as a school district also.”

The rate of population growth in the district was apparent when Royal Bay Secondary needed to be expanded within a few years of its 2015 opening — a $30-million expansion was completed in 2020. The school opened with a capacity for 900 students and became the Island’s largest secondary school at 1,400 students when the addition was complete.

jbell@timescolonist.com