New seismically safe school opens in New Westminster

June 6, 2022 at 11:33 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

Families, students and school staff celebrated the official opening of Skwo:wech Elementary, which provides a modern learning and teaching environment along with an important meaning in its new name.

“Skwo:wech Elementary will have such a positive impact for the community, with a newly built, seismically safe school, a StrongStart classroom and dedicated child care spaces,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education and Child Care and MLA for New Westminster. “I know the school will continue to be a place of inspiration, offering students social and academic enrichment for many years to come.”

Skwo:wech Elementary was built over the past two years to replace Richard McBride Elementary. With its bright and modern learning spaces, the new school’s opening brought excitement to the community as students and staff moved in over spring break 2022. The school features collaborative spaces that support innovative learning opportunities, a courtyard and top-floor views of the Fraser River.

“This beautiful new school is going to offer students and staff amazing opportunities to learn in new ways, with collaborative spaces that will foster creativity and a design that makes learning visible and accessible,” said Gurveen Dhaliwal, chair, New Westminster Board of Education. “It’s not only a vital investment in the growing number of students we’re working hard to support, but also in families and the community, as we consider the soon-to-come expansion of much-needed child care spaces and the future opportunities this opens.”

As a community hub, the school supports more than 400 students in kindergarten to Grade 5, in addition to early-learning and child care programs. It has a StrongStart classroom for toddlers and preschool students as well as a Neighbourhood Learning Centre with 37 child care spaces set to open next school year. The new space now accommodates the existing before- and after-school care programs within the main school, which were previously housed in a separate portable building.

“As parents and caregivers, we are so excited that our children are able to learn in such a beautiful, safe and inclusive space,” said Jen Knight, chair, Skwo:wech parent advisory council (PAC). “Our students and community have already connected with the school in so many ways, beginning with their involvement in naming the new building, in partnership with Chief Rhonda Larrabee and the Qayqayt First Nation. We look forward to supporting Skwo:wech students and staff at the new school in the years to come.”

Skwo:wech is the halq’eméylem word for sturgeon, and speaks to the primary food source for Indigenous Peoples who travelled and fished up and down the Fraser River before commercial fishing boats began operating in the area. The school’s PAC initiated the name change, with support of the board, through community feedback and consultation with Chief Larrabee of the Qayqayt First Nation and local stakeholder groups. The name honours Coast Salish peoples’ connections to the Fraser River and reflects both the wisdom and resilience of the sturgeon.

The project cost of the school was $34.98 million, including $12.42 million for the child care centre. The child care centre is funded through a cost-share arrangement between the Ministry of Education and Child Care (previously funded under the Ministry of Children and Family Development), the City of New Westminster and the New Westminster School District (SD40).

Since September 2017, government has approved nearly $50 million for major school capital investments in New Westminster, including a 325-seat addition to Queen Elizabeth Elementary, seismic upgrades at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary and the seismic replacement of Richard McBride Elementary.

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