Immigration boom crowds Manitoba school halls
School divisions in southern Manitoba are struggling to keep up with a growing number of students who are arriving in the area as part of an immigration boom.
Nearly 11,000 immigrants arrived in Manitoba in 2006-07 — the highest annual international immigration rate among all of the provinces.
'The conditions are crowded. They're becoming unsafe.'—Vern Reimer, superintendent, Garden Valley School Division
A large number of immigrants from Germany and eastern Europe have settled in the area around Winkler, in south-central Manitoba. Their children enrol in schools mainly in the Hanover and Garden Valley school divisions.
Vern Reimer, superintendent of the Garden Valley School Division, describes the situation in his schools as a crisis.
"The conditions are crowded. They're becoming unsafe," he said. "Kids can't even actually get from one class to the next in the allotted break time, simply because of the congestion."
Each year, about 200 new students enrol in Garden Valley schools. If newcomers continue to settle in the area at that rate, Reimer projects the student population will double in a dozen years.
Where to put those students is a growing problem; already, about 1,000 of the division's 3,700 students are taught in portable classrooms, instead of permanent school buildings.
"We're running out of infrastructure, bathrooms and ancillary space to accommodate these students, so it's becoming a really serious issue, especially in our high school. We have, in our high school alone, 15 portables … for September of '08," he said.
"If we wanted all students — existing and future students — to be in permanent constructed schools, we would have to build a school in 2011, and then a high school in 2012, and then after that, we would have to build more, 16-classroom schools."
More schools planned
Rick Dedi, spokesman for the province's public schools finance board, says the province already plans to build a new middle school in the Garden Valley division and add on to one of its elementary schools.
He's not ruling out building more schools in the future to help get students out of portable classrooms.
"This is probably in the next decade, you could see the reliance of portables fall away," he said.
Until then, Reimer says, he'll consider changing students' schedules to disperse the crowds