By Amy Fendley Planning and construction funding has been approved to replace Signal Hill elementary. The new school will be built to accommodate 80 kindergarten students and 500 elementary students. The building was designed to accommodate 275 students but last year there were more than 400 students at Signal Hill. Judy Bourhis, chairperson of the Howe Sound School Board, says this is great news for the community by finally moving the current education system into modern times. "It’s been a long journey," says Bourhis. "The board has been trying for eight years to get to this point. We’re in the books. This will give us two very modern facilities and with that comes all the modern things." Once the board has the money in its pocket, sometime in the new year, Bourhis says they will then be able to form a committee to hire an architect to draw up the school plans. After that, the next step is construction. Signal Hill is 35 years old and has undergone a number of patchwork repairs in the last years since it was discovered the air quality in the school is below minimum standards. The $5.6 million announced for replacement of the school is unusual in that it is for planning and construction. Usually the province provides money for planning one year and construction funds later. The new school could open by September, 2000. Last week, the provincial government announced a new $244 million construction program to build 13 new schools and 100 additions in high growth communities. A further 23 new schools and 66 additions were announced by the government earlier this year as part of a $1.4 billion, multi-year capital strategy to build, replace and expand B.C. schools. The strategy will also aim to reduce the number of portable classrooms by half, over the next four years. The government’s total commitment to school construction for 1998/99 is $748 million — the largest school construction budget in the province’s history. A previous high of $650 million was spent on school construction in 1991/92. There are 16 projects slated for 15 different communities across the province involving the replacement and renovation of older schools, mostly in rural areas. Work on a replacement school in Pemberton for Signal Hill elementary will begin six months early as part of the largest enhanced construction plan to improve B.C.’s schools, announced education minister Paul Ramsey. "Education is key to a strong economy," Ramsey said in a press release. "Our investment in B.C.’s education system creates construction jobs, improves learning environments in the short term and in the long term ensures that B.C. students are equipped to seize the opportunities available in our new, knowledge-based economy."