NWSS Project: Frequently Asked Questions

About the project

The $106.5 million replacement of New Westminster Secondary School is the largest school investment in B.C. history and will provide a state-of-the-art learning environment for 1900 students in grades 9 to 12.  The long-awaited replacement of New Westminster School District's only high school was announced June 7, 2016. A new NWSS will be the final major piece of the puzzle in our comprehensive facilities plan to meet the immediate and future needs of the district. Some frequently asked questions about the project are:

What does the project include?

  • The project will replace the school with a new state-of-the-art facility on the same property, but in a different location on the site.
  • The new facility will be a grade 9-12 school and accommodate up to 2,100 students.
  • The school will provide a 21st century learning environment that will support our students' need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators and communicators in an increasingly complex world. 
  • A new school will incorporate features such as flexible learning spaces, innovative resources, portable technologies, and modern performing arts spaces that enrich learning and support the individual needs of each of our students -- all in a more environmentally sustainable facility that incorporates the latest energy management systems and ensures a healthy, high-quality learning environment.  

Is the project funded through B.C.'s Seismic Mitigation Program?

  • No. The project was approved before B.C.'s Seismic Mitigation Program was created in 2004.
  • The project is funded through the Ministry of Education's Capital Program.
  • However, the school was seismically assessed as high-risk in 2014 -- and this is why we are moving this project forward. 
If the project was approved prior to 2004, why did it take 12 years to get to this point of making the announcement in June, 2016?
  • This is a complex project that required thoughtful planning and consideration because of the unique history of the school site.
  • Initial plans prior to 2004 were to construct both a middle school and secondary school on the site. These were deferred at the time due to the discovery of an un-decommissioned cemetery beneath a portion of the School District's property. The extent to which the NWSS site was used for burials was subsequently brought to light.  Since 2007, the School District has been researching the historical use of the school property and specifically its use for burials from roughly 1861 to 1920.
  • The overall reduction in a buildable site area led to the decision to locate the district's new, third middle school elsewhere. This September 2016, Fraser River Middle School is ready to open its doors and welcome grade 6-8 students at its location at 800 Queens Avenue. Construction of a new secondary school will be the final step in the District's Capital Plan.  
Are there other sites available to build the new secondary school?
  • No. Given the size of the property required, along with the urban development of the city and the extreme slope of most of the land, the current site is still the best option for a secondary school.

The school is just over 60 years old - why does it need to be replaced?

  • The original school was built in 1949. Seismically upgrading the structure would not be sufficient to deal with the overall condition of the school.
  • Replacing the school is less expensive than seismically upgrading it.
School districts across the Lower Mainland are being forced to consider closing schools, or cutting music programs and other services.  How do you justify spending over $100 million on one school?  
  • New Westminster Secondary is one of the largest secondary schools in B.C. with about 2,000 students.  The safety of B.C. students is paramount.  This investment will ensure these students and future students have a safe place to learn the skills they need to succeed.
  • As noted, the school was seismically assessed as high-risk in 2014.  The school district identified New Westminster Secondary School as our number one priority in our long-range facilities plan for the area.
What will happen to the Massey Theatre?
  • The school district and the City of New Westminster are working together to determine a plan for the theatre to best suit the needs of the community and students.
  • The Massey theatre will be in a location separate from the new school.
The school is projected to be at 100% capacity upon opening.  Why aren't you building a bigger school?
  • The new grade 9 to 12 school will accommodate up to 2,100 students, which meets the needs of future enrollment forecasts.
  • Enrollment is expected to grow slightly to about 1,925 students in 2019.
  • It is important to note that high schools can operate slightly 'over capacity" due to class scheduling and spares.
The new school is grade 9 - 12. Where will the grade 8 students go?
  • Grade 8 students as of September 2016 will be attending our newly opened Ecole Fraser River Middle School.
When will construction begin and when will it be complete?
  • Construction is expected to start in 2017.  The school is anticipated to open in fall 2019.
Where will students go to school while work is underway at their school?
  • The existing building will be used as temporary space while the new school is built.
  • Once the new school is complete, the students will be moved into the new school.
What type of procurement method is being used for this project?
  • Design-Build will be used to build the new school. This method helps minimize risks for the district and reduces the delivery schedule.
This project will be done under B.C.'s Apprentices on Public Projects Policy. What does that mean?
  • It means the contractor who builds the new school will have to demonstrate they are engaged in apprenticeship training.
  • The Apprentices on Public Projects Policy is part of B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint - and is one way we are helping young people in B.C. get connected with skills training and apprenticeship opportunities.
What is the history of the site?
  • The existing school was built on land formerly used as a burial ground, public works yard, and staging area for the military during the Second World War.
  • The unique history of the school site makes this a very complex project that requires thoughtful planning and consideration.
  • Broad community engagement was launched with First Nations, the Chinese community, and other key stakeholders, and is continuing.
  • As the project moves into the design stage, the Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism will lead a stakeholder advisory committee that will engage with First Nations, the Chinese community, and other key groups.  
  • This engagement will determine the best way to memorialize what happened on the old school site.
Where are the potential human remains?
  • The western portion of the property along 8th Street between 8th Avenue and 10th Avenue was used for burials.
  • While archeological and geotechnical investigations have been done which have not resulted in evidence of human remains, more work will be done to more fully understand where burials may have taken place on the site and if any artifacts remain. 
What work is being done to protect the burial grounds? 
  • Government respects the heritage of the site and is committed to ensuring construction is done in a way that preserves and protects the cultural significance of the burial grounds.
  • A historical wrong was committed when the school was built on this site.
  • We can never undo this, but we are committed tomaking every effort to making it right.
  • The new school will be located on portions of the site away from former burial areas.
  • We will ensure heritage requirements are met and any historic artifacts are appropriately recorded. 
Were the First Nations and the Chinese community consulted as part of the project?
  • Broad community engagement has been carried out with First Nations, the Chinese community, and other key stakeholders. Our engagement  is continuing.
  • As the project moves into the design stage, the Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism will lead a stakeholder advisory committee that will engage with First Nations, Chinese, and other key groups.
  • This engagement will determine the best way to memorialize what happened on the old school site.
  • More information on the stakeholder engagement process will be available as the process develops.
What about the claims that the remains of Chief Ahan are in the buiral grounds underneath the existing high school - how is that being addressed?
  • It has been confirmed that Chief Ahan's death occurred in New Westminster. However, the exact final resting place of Chief Ahan is unknown.
What are the environmental risks?  What strategy is being taken to mitigate this risk?
  • There are some known areas of soil contamination on the site, including an underground fuel tank as well as hazardous building materials consistent with the building materials of the day.
  • Mitigation strategies will be incorporated into the project to ensure that any environmental concerns are addressed in compliance with regulations.