A plan for B.C. community services set in motion over five years ago is finally taking effect in Surrey, transforming schools that are empty after classes finish into “neighborhood learning centres” outside of school hours.
The province first announced the neighborhood learning centre initiative in September 2008 with the vision of using schools to cater to the needs of their surrounding communities.
Principals familiar with their school’s community assess what sort of needs the people in the surrounding areas have.
“Each school community is different and principals know their little school community best and they know what that space is best suited for,” said Surrey school trustee Laurae McNally. “They may need it for daycare, dance, arts. Uses depend on their individual community.”
The first centre, a daycare, was added to the new Sunnyside Elementary in the Grandview Heights area of South Surrey in early September. Three more are planned to follow. One will be in Fraser Heights Secondary and the other two in new elementary schools opening in the beginning of 2014.
However, many parents and school staff are still unclear as to exactly what the NLC initiative is.
“It’s kind of an unknown at this point,” said Sheila Morissette, principal of Fraser Heights Secondary. “I don’t think many parents know about it yet.” Morissette was uncertain what sort of purpose was going to be allotted to her school’s new centre.
Parents were also unaware of the NLC initiative but can see the benefits.
“I think it is a good idea,” said parent advisory council member Patti Johnston. “The surrounding areas of schools … have always been used by groups, teams, et cetera, so why not the buildings themselves?”
Although some Surrey schools have been used for community activities previous to the NLC program’s introduction, local politicians say it’s about time that more of them are put to that use.
“It’s quite unfortunate that for many years we had nice big buildings sitting empty at night,” said Surrey city Coun. Barinder Rasode. “I don’t know why we haven’t opened up our schools sooner.”
Rasode says the initiative took much too long to reach Surrey.
“I think that when we started having the discussion in 2008, that in 2009 they should’ve been opened.”
School board officials were unable to say if NLCs would be used to generate revenue and where that revenue would go.
Trustee Charlene Dobie addressed safety concerns relating to after-hours use.
“We do have a few policies that deal with safety and security,” said Dobie. “These include safety and security for school after-hour activities.”
The new centres will be open seven days a week and are open to all ages.