EDITORIAL: Not yet within expectations?

Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon outside his constituency office last year.

Here’s a tip.

Always check, and double check, the facts – even when a prominent senior government minister is making a good news announcement.

An Oct. 21 Education Ministry press release offers a case in point.

The release quotes Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon trumpeting the start of construction on a $1.8 million addition at a local school.

In the first line, Falcon says construction is set to begin in November on a four-classroom addition at Hazelgrove Elementary.

“Although Hazelgrove is a fairly new school,” he said, “It already has a need for more space.”

Well, that’s a bit of an understatement. But you wouldn’t know it from the press release, or from Falcon’s carefully-phrased comments.

When Hazelgrove – in fact, not “fairly new” but nearly brand-new – welcomed its first students in September, 2009 – it was already too small to meet demand.

When it opened, there was space for more than 450 students in Kindergarten to Grade 7 at the $13 million school.

But more students than that showed up on the first day of school. Two portables were required immediately, and soon grew to five.

This year, there’s 10 (two are needed for children who will be displaced by the construction project) – and a student population of 713, according to the school’s website.

In the press release, Falcon said the new classrooms will help alleviate some of the enrolment demands by providing space for 90 additional students.

That would bring the capacity to 450 students in Grades 1 to 7 and 40 new kindergarten spaces.

In other words, students are still going to be in portable classrooms.

There’s another problem with the otherwise feel-good press release – construction on the new classrooms isn’t actually starting this month, despite Falcon’s assurances (and the assurances of school trustee Laurae McNalley.

As part of the tendering process, interested contractors were only just invited to inspect the school this past Tuesday, Nov. 9.

The deadline for bid proposals is Nov. 23.

A spokesman for School District 36 has confirmed construction is expected to start in December.

That’s quite a bit later than the Hazelgrove Elementary school community was led to believe.

And when the project’s completed, there will still be students in portables – they just won’t be in the primary grades from Kindergarten to Grade 3.

Until then, we’ll be filing this press release squarely in the category of “not yet within expectations” and hope our MLA does his homework next time.

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