The new Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools board of trustees is renewing its advocacy push to replace Nanaimo District Secondary School while also considering strategies to reduce population pressures on the school.
In December, the board passed a motion for the board chair to write to Rachna Singh and Katrine Conroy, the new ministers of education and child care and finance, respectively, advocating for funding to replace the over-capacity school as well as highlight the board’s commitment to work with the ministries on a replacement plan.
“We’re all aware, as is every single person in our community, that NDSS needs to be replaced,” Trustee Leanne Lee, who introduced the motion, said.
At the Dec. 7 business committee meeting, staff shared a memo outlining steps already taken to maximize space at the school as well as strategies for the long-range facilities plan (LRFP) committee to review to ease population pressures.
The school, which has its highest enrolment since 1989, has a current headcount of 1,657, though it was built for 1,400 students. Based on short-term preliminary enrolment estimates enrolment is expected to keep growing over the next couple years, reaching 1,700 in 2024-25.
“We want the community to be aware that the system is taking this very seriously and an answer needs to come soon – at least a plan needs to be in place relatively soon,” Secretary Treasurer Mark Walsh told the business committee.
Already the school district has limited cross-boundary transfer to NDSS, moved central district staff that were in the building to Dufferin Crescent and helped Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation relocate its offices elsewhere as well. NLPS also has plans to move four portables to the school, but that is a costly process, estimated at $400,000, and there are other schools in need of portables as well.
The school district has submitted a seismic upgrade application for the school, but won’t find out if it was approved by the Ministry of Education and Child Care until 2023. If NLPS is successful in its bid for a seismic upgrade, it’s possible an expansion could be paired with it, Walsh said.
A number of solutions to the population challenges will be discussed by the LRFP committee, though not all are realistic or likely, such as relocating French immersion to another school, Walsh said.
In addition to expansion of NDSS, other possible solutions to be deliberated are a minor expansion of Wellington, reallocation of programming such as district sports programs, reopening Woodlands Secondary and shuffling feeder schools.
Two NDSS feeder schools, Mountain View and Gabriola, have either some or all students bussed to the school. This creates an opportunity to look at having those students bussed to another school, Walsh said.
“Nanaimo is an incredibly easy city to get around,” Walsh said, and noted the time to bus students from the Gabriola ferry terminal to NDSS versus John Barsby or Cedar is relatively the same.
“It’s something theoretically we could use to balance populations.”
Once the LRFP committee analyzes potential solutions, a report would go to the board with a recommendation to move to public consultation, with the goal of that happening by February 2023.
By Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter