New Breslau school is WRDSB’s top priority in the townships

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An overview of public schools in the Waterloo Region sees the need for a new elementary school in Breslau to keep up with the rapidly growing community, while several other schools were identified for expansions.

In a long term accommodation plan (LTAP) document that was approved in principle by Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) trustees, the upcoming subdivision of Breslau-Hopewell Creek (Thomasfield) was listed as a priority location for a new school building. However, how much the province, now under new management, agrees with that assessment will ultimately determine when the project is funded.

The LTAP essentially lists each school in the region, and compares their student populations with the school’s max capacities to help decide where new schools and classrooms are needed.

Lauren Agar, manager of planning with the WRDSB, explains that anytime a new subdivision is approved, the school board looks at whether the existing schools in the area can accommodate the increase in students.

“But in this case we do have a full Breslau Public School,” she said. “We did do an addition there not too long ago, only just a few years ago. But at that time we knew that this other subdivision was coming on, so realistically Breslau is just a really big growth area for us right now. So we did require that an additional facility be added to the mix to support that population increase.”

Breslau PS is currently operating at about 100 students over its capacity of 565 students – or 17 per cent above capacity (based on 2017 numbers). The additional students are accommodated in portables, which are typically considered less preferable to brick-and-mortar classrooms. A new school in Breslau may mean some students are moved out of the current public school, though a boundary study has yet to be done.

How the new school might look or be designed is also up in the air, and ultimately depends on whether the funding is approved. Some of the public input for creating the LTAP stressed the need for more outdoor spaces in new schools and even outdoor classrooms. The public also preferred schools with compact designs that emphasized height over sprawling campuses.

But probably a good indication of how a new school in Breslau might look would be the new Riverside PS in Elmira, which has a childcare centre sharing the campus.

“One of the other components that we’re doing, and are actually mandated to do through the Planning Act, is to design schools with community hubs in mind. So that would mean we would be looking for partners anytime that we build new schools,” said Agar.

“Our typical partners are child care providers and the Ministry now funds childcare spaces, and we’ve been successful in a few of our more recent projects for elementary schools to get funding for childcare spaces with those schools.

“But other uses could be community facilities … libraries, pools, that sort of thing, so that we’re maximizing public facilities, or public land, by providing everything in one central location.”

Last year, the WRDSB requested $12.8 million from the province for the Breslau school, but was rejected. As the province takes on the construction costs for new schools in the region, the timelines for a new facility will ultimately depend on it. The WRDSB is still in talks with the Hopewell Creek developer to find a location for the school.

Beyond Breslau, the public schools in Conestogo and Wellesley were listed as somewhat over capacity, though population projections expect to see a decline in the number of students attending each one. St. Jacobs was comfortably within its margin; while Floradale and Linwood were substantially underutilized.

With a maximum capacity of 340 students, Floradale only has a student body of 241 – essentially meaning that a full 30 per cent of the school is being underused. For Linwood, with a capacity of 528 but only a population of 403, more than a hundred students could be added to and still be under capacity.

In Elmira, the school board is also requesting funds for an addition to John Mahood PS. The current student population of 432 is 13 per cent above the school’s 381 capacity. Park Manor and Riverside PS by contrast are well within their classroom limits.

The township’s high school, EDSS, is also using portables to accommodate its large student population. The school’s current population of 1,299 is 22 per cent above the school’s actual capacity of 1,062. The population is also projected to grow in the LTAP by another 500 students in the next five years. The school board is looking into classroom additions for the school if the population does indeed continue to increase.