WELLINGTON ‒ Several schools in Wellington County are expected to exceed capacity by 2030 thanks to a slew of new developments on the horizon.
According to the Upper Grand District School Board's Long Term Accommodation Plan (LTAP), it’s “clear” that something “is needed” so that there is time for new construction to accommodate projected population growth over the next eight years.
“We need more support from your municipal planning staff basically to try and figure this out and how it’s impacting municipalities,” said Ruchika Angrish, manager of planning for the school board, during a Wellington North council meeting. “(Residential expansion) is definitely impacting our schools and we’ve already started to see some of its (impact).”
Wellington County experienced growth in the preschool and school-age populations between 2016 to 2021, especially in the 5-9 and 10-14 age cohorts.
“We only get the numbers after the student shows up at our school so that’s unfortunately the reality we’re facing right now,” said Angrish.
The LTAP credits the increase to the amount of housing growth planned in municipalities such as Erin and Centre Wellington.
In Erin, which is home to three elementary and one secondary UGDSB schools, their student population will nearly double over the next eight years.
“This is something that we at school boards and all across Ontario have been struggling with and trying to figure out the best way to project,” said Angrish. “But by the time we get there, there’s more provincial policy changes.”
The LTAP shows that lower-density housing, including single and semi-detached yields a higher number of students than higher-density housing like apartments.
“When there are apartment buildings, they don’t necessarily yield the number of kids that we expect,” said Angrish. “We have noticed that mostly in apartment buildings there are either very very young families or older communities…so the yield rate is significantly lower.”
While two new elementary school sites have been identified in planned subdivisions in Erin and Hillsburgh, the report states that portables may also be necessary to accommodate students across the county until capital funding for new schools becomes available.
In 2022/23, there are a total of 136 portables and two four-paks in Wellington County elementary and secondary classroom spaces.
“Portables work very differently since they’re considered temporary accommodation,” said Angrish. “So there is no maximum or minimum limit mandated by the ministry.”
Since many of these developments are “scattered throughout the countryside,” increased need for busing will also need to be addressed.
“Transportation is one of the key things when it comes down to some of the rural schools which are not walkable communities,” said Angrish. “(Increasing these services) comes down to funding and the cost resources.”
South and east Guelph elementary schools are also anticipated to swell, with several “currently overcapacity.”
In Wellington North, “higher than historical growth” will take place with “most future residential development” to be in Arthur and Mount Forest.
Drayton Heights and Palmerston PS will “stay over-utilized.”
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.