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Student squeeze: Halifax public schools get more modular units to accommodate enrollment boom


Wednesday, a new multi-classroom modular unit will greet students at Georges P. Vanier Junior High in Fall River, N.S., for the first time.

It’s one of four such units getting the finishing touches at three schools in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE), as it prepares to add 2,000 students to its now total enrollment of 56,000 students.

“Air conditioning, is a big bonus,” says grade 6 teacher Jannea Burgess, who has been busy setting up her classroom inside.

The unit will house 10 grade six classes. On top of air conditioning, the unit also includes in-house washrooms, something traditional “portables” don’t have.

Burgess is glad to get the breathing room for her students, and says she’s looking forward to the new space.

“There was some overcrowding in the school, we were a little tight in there (last year), and we had some portables out here, but this unit, it's going to make learning a joy in there,” she says.

HRCE spokesperson Doug Hadley says the units are more permanent than portables, last longer, and can accommodate more classrooms with a smaller physical footprint.

“There's lots of benefits to having this structure here in place,” says Hadley.

The cost for the entire project, which includes labour, materials, and extras like paving, was already worked into HRCE’s budget this year at a cost of roughly $40 million.

“It’s a way we're able to address pressing infrastructure needs very quickly,” says Hadley. “This didn't exist here at the end of the school year, it's been built over the summer, so when you think of that in some ways we've built four schools.”

The new units are on top of five put in place through a federal/provincial funding initiative for the last school year.

The HRCE also still has 62 “portables” in use at 21 other schools in the district.

The new president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says he’s heard positive feedback from teachers about the modular units.

But he’s concerned about the overall strain on the system with the influx of several thousand students, in a system he says was already ready stretched last year.

“Overall, we need a long-term solution to our population growth,” says Ryan Lutes. “We have lots of schools that are overcapacity, so that's the other thing. Depending on where students are going, is that going to put extra pressure on those schools? Are those classes going to have to go overcapacity?”

He says it can also put a strain on staff and other resources.

The HRCE says it has made more hires, and adjusted bus routes, to handle the bump in numbers on the first day of school Sept. 7. Top Stories

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