School board approves investigating prefabricated build to alleviate NDSS capacity pressures

School board approves investigating prefabricated build to alleviate NDSS capacity pressures
Nanaimo District Secondary School is pictured in this file photo.

A prefabricated or modular expansion for Nanaimo District Secondary School or Wellington will be explored to see whether it could ease the capacity challenges at the school district’s largest high school.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools board of education directed staff to pursue investigating the option at their Dec. 20, 2023 board meeting.

Staff will examine the potential, Wellington the more practical option space-wise, according to staff, and report back to the board for final approval.

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Meanwhile, the school district is awaiting the Ministry of Education’s decision on whether to fund a replacement of NDSS, which would address the seismic upgrade sorely needed for the school as well.

“The concern with NDSS, I think, if we are seeking to get it replaced … it’s under the seismic envelope and there’s only so much money in the seismic envelope, so there is a real risk that even though we know, and I think everybody in the province up to the Premier knows how important it is to get NDSS seismically upgraded, you add the additional capacity and the seismic, you end up looking at a monster project,” Secretary Treasurer Mark Walsh said at the Dec. 13 business committee meeting.

The ministry has approved prefabricated builds in other school districts, including Sooke and Surrey.

Adding space at NDSS separate from a replacement “would be slightly absurd and not align with the LRFP” (long range facilities plan), which recommends that seismic upgrades align with facility priorities such as environmental upgrades and expansions, a Dec. 13 memo to the business committee says.

A prefabricated or modular build at Wellington would allow for shifting Forest Park Elementary into that high school’s catchment. The additional space wouldn’t be a panacea, however, the memo noting that additional students at Wellington would limit access to the gym and the makeup of general versus specialty classrooms in a prefabricated build is unclear at this time. The Forest Park community would be consulted on the option, Walsh said.

Prefabricated planning would be a 2.5 year project versus five years for the NDSS replacement proposal. The expansion type is forecasted to have a 30-year lifespan, the memo says. While not addressing seismic issues at NDSS, such a build would “right-size” the school district’s largest high school and potentially make a future rebuild of NDSS “hopefully easier to approve” because the size of the project would be reduced, from 1,700 students to 1,500, Walsh said. As of Sept. 29, 2023, NDSS’s student population was 1,596.

Earlier this year, the board removed the proposed option of sending Gabriola students to Cedar Secondary following pressure from parents and community members.

In October, NLPS staff provided a brief update regarding strategies implemented to address NDSS’s capacity issue, including adding two portables, limiting access to international students and redirecting some in-catchment students to neighbouring schools with capacity. The Dec. 13 memo said that in the fall, NLPS staff were in discussions with the Nanaimo District Teachers Association (NDTA) on a contractual agreement that would have extended the school day to add additional blocks. The NDTA did not agree to the proposal. The memo asserts the practice occurs in other districts and “would have solved the capacity issue almost completely.”

The December memo also suggests an additional option would be to limit enrolment at NDSS for students from SD93, the Francophone school district. Estimated to reduce the school’s population by 50 to 60 students, the school district noted the decision could be contentious and could result in SD93 students enrolling in SD68 instead.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

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