Its name is Lekwungen for the “opening of hands” and Langford’s brand new PEXSISEN elementary is ready to do just that in only a couple of days.
“We will be able to house 500 students between the grades of Kindergarten and Grade 5,” said Vice-Principal Ceilidh Deichmann.
The school will start out with 340 K to 5 students, but will also make space for dozens of middle school students from the new Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School next door which won’t be ready to open until November.
Yet even with these all of those new seats, the district still finds itself running at over capacity.
“We’re down about 200 seats which means our schools are at 120 per cent capacity,” said Sooke School Superintendent Scott Stinson.
The two new buildings will be able to house up to 1,200 students, but the district has seen enrollment grow by 1,400 in just the past two years.
It’s not a new problem. Royal Bay Secondary was already at capacity when it opened in 2015 and portables had to be brought in to accommodate the overflow. Despite a $34 million expansion that’s only been open for one school year, it’s once again over capacity.
“We’ve had to close Belmont [Secondary] to registration now and we’re pushing overflow to Royal Bay and Royal Bay is above capacity now, so we will see portables heading back there in the next year,” Stinson said.
“The previous government had a policy that you could only build to what you had and you had to plan in advance, fortunately, this government changed that and it’s just a matter of playing catch up,” said Sooke School Board Chair Ravi Parmar.
There is another new 480-seat elementary school set to be built in South Langford which will open its doors in 2025.
But with development booming and more and more families moving to the West Shore, one new school isn’t going to be enough. The district has submitted a funding request to the province for at least two more schools and they say it’s critical the money comes through.
“I think there may be coming a time where we’re going to have to start turning kids away and possibly forming partnerships with Victoria,” Parmar said.
Ideally, they say they’d see another five or six new schools built in the next few years as one of the country’s fastest-growing communities struggles to keep up.