More prefabricated modular classrooms announced for Surrey schools

Modular classrooms ‘still doesn’t stop the need for an addition’ at school: school board chair
Education Minister Rachna Singh at an announcement at Martha Currie Elementary for more prefabricated modules at the school, on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Sobia Moman photo)

The Ministry of Education has announced more prefabricated modular classrooms for Surrey’s schools, a “semi-permanent” solution to the district’s overcrowding issue.

On Thursday morning (May 23), Education Minister Rachna Singh announced at Martha Currie Elementary that the school will be receiving six new classrooms in the form of prefabricated modules to replace the portables on site.

Ensuring more classroom space is a priority to the ministry, Singh said, adding, “we also know that traditionally built classrooms and new schools can take years.”

As a quicker solution to Surrey and other school districts’ overcrowding issues, the ministry decided last year to begin incorporating prefabricated modules, due to the faster build time. The classrooms include heating and air-conditioning, a photocopy area and washrooms, with multiple modulars attached to one another.

Martha Currie’s module will be added to the school as early as the 2025-26 school year, Singh said. Also announced was an additional four modular classrooms to the already-announced 12 at Walnut Road Elementary.

“Both projects will help to address some of the exponential growth we’re experiencing in these neighbourhoods and expand out capacity to meet the needs of our rapidly increasing student population,” Surrey school board chair Laurie Larsen said at the announcement.

When asked by Peace Arch News whether the two schools will be removed from capital projects lists from the district for needing constructed additions attached to the existing school building due to the modulars, Larsen said that a modular is better than a portable but “still doesn’t stop the need for an addition” at the schools.

“The only thing they don’t have is an attachment to the school at this time, and of course the all-important gym space and library and music space isn’t included in the prefabs, so I’m hoping in the future they can develop a way to model the prefabs into a gym or into a library space for the students,” Larsen added.

The board chair said that there are 7,800 students learning in portables in Surrey currently.

In an interview with superintendent Mark Pearmain, he said the schools receiving modular additions will be removed from the capital planning lists for the short term.

“We view these as semi-permanent, and so they’re locked in for 20 to 25 years,” Pearmain told PAN.

If growth continues, the school sites with the prefabs may receive more and, eventually, be looked at for a possible site replacement. At that point, Pearmain added, the school itself would be rebuilt to a larger size with the modulars likely moved to another school site that needs the space.

“It is a significant upgrade from the independent portables that are connected together,” the superintendent said.

“I think we would all love connected buildings. … If there’s opportunities to connect them (to the school), that would be ideal.”

Capital projects director Dave Riley said modulars may be able to be attached to some school sites, but that is dependent on whether the location is suitable under the fire codes, which is yet to be seen for Martha Currie Elementary.

In October 2023, when the first round of prefabricated modules were announced for three schools at the board meeting, some trustees were not thrilled with the news.

RELATED: Trustee calls new Surrey classrooms from province ‘fancy portables’

In particular, Trustees Terry Allen and Laurae McNally were not pleased that the modulars would still be separate from the existing school buildings, instead of attached to the school. Allen even called the modulars “fancy portables.”

When asked about this by PAN, Singh said there are misconceptions about prefabricated modules.

“This is a new concept, I know. Whenever any new technology or new way to building classrooms comes up, it obviously creates some kind of anxiety,” Singh said.

“I was in a prefabricated classroom just last week in Coquitlam, and they’ve had those prefabricated classrooms for more than three years now, and they were amazing. You cannot find the difference between the traditional build and the prefabricated.”

The minister added that she looks forward to touring the new classrooms with the trustees when they are ready. She said other “innovative” options for handling overcrowded schools may be considered.

“This work is not finished yet. Much has been done, (with) much more that we need to do.”

Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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