The School District 36 Surrey oversees roughly 120 public elementary and secondary schools. It is the largest school district in all of British Columbia. There are currently 99 public elementary schools and 21 public high schools.

There are also private schools such as Holy Cross High School, Pacific Academy, Southridge School, Regent Christian Academy, and Surrey Christian.

Currently there are about 63,036 students who are in public or private schools.

Surrey is also home to the Surrey Campus of Simon Fraser University. The Newton town centre of Surrey hosts the main campus of the Kwantlen University College. Surrey also has five campuses of Surrey College, a certificate- and diploma-granting technical school.

Simon Fraser University
SFU's programs are organized in six faculties: Applied Sciences, Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Education, Health Sciences, and Science. Simon Fraser University has been rated as Canada's best comprehensive university (1993, 1997, 1998 and 2000) in the annual rankings of Maclean's magazine and has consistently placed at or near the top of the publication's national evaluations.

Kwantlen University College is a comprehensive undergraduate university with four campuses located in the South Fraser region of British Columbia's Lower Mainland. Kwantlen offers bachelor's degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates and citations in over 135 programs. The College also provides over 25 services to help students succeed in their studies. More than 17,000 students annually attend Kwantlen campuses in Surrey, Richmond and Langley. A new campus, the Trades and Technology Centre, opened April 2007.

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Surrey has often been called a “city of cities,” a patchwork of communities stretching from the strip malls of rootin’ tootin’ Newton to the rodeo clowns of Cloverdale and the seaside cottages at Crescent Beach. Six town centres — Whalley, Newton, Guildford, Fleetwood, Cloverdale and South Surrey — sprawl across a land mass big enough to hold Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby combined.

Each is separated by streams, rivers and one third of Metro Vancouver’s agricultural land, and each bears its own social, cultural and economic challenges.

But as Surrey transforms into a city set to rival Vancouver in population by 2040 (a projected 766,000 people each), city officials are wrestling with how to shape and stitch those centres together and provide residents with what they need to live, work and play in each.

“Surrey is geographically a large city; people forget that sometimes,” said Jean Lamontagne, city general manager of planning and development. “It’s like cities within a city.”

Whalley, for instance, has long been the bane of Surrey jokes, associated with gangs, crime and hookers, but is in the midst of change as part of it is developed into a walkable, transit-oriented downtown, renamed City Centre.

Newton, with its strip malls and big Indo-Canadian population, is Surrey’s densest town centre, with easy access to Highway 10, King George Boulevard and the Alex Fraser Bridge.

South Surrey has a robust arts community and well-heeled seniors population. Cloverdale has retained its small-town heart while creating a dense urban neighbourhood in nearby Clayton. And Guildford and Fleetwood, located along bustling 152nd Street, are transforming from single-family neighbourhoods into robust economic centres.

“To go from the north to the south you travel through these pastoral lands yet you’re still in the middle of an urban city, it’s fairly unique in that respect,” Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner said. “You don’t generally, within a city, have both rural and urban in such a huge land mass.”

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts maintains that, for too long, people equated Whalley with Surrey, giving the entire city a black eye. But that’s starting to change, she said, as people realize what her city has to offer.

Housing in Surrey is still affordable compared with cities such as Vancouver. Schools continue to be built to serve the growing student population, which is the biggest in B.C.

Parks, walking and bicycle trails are being expanded, while the city continues to build and upgrade recreation centres and libraries and has the largest number of artificial sports fields in the province.

“People really are certainly looking at Surrey in terms of what it has to offer,” she said. “Thousands of people are choosing to come here and choosing to raise their families here.”

But the city has work to do if it truly wants to reach big-city status: Despite its size, Surrey has few high-end restaurants, lounges or entertainment venues. There are just three live theatre venues: the Bell Centre for Performing Arts, Chandos Pattison Auditorium and Surrey Arts Centre.

Anita Huberman, president of the Surrey Board of Trade, said one local company has 70 employees under the age of 30, but most live in Vancouver and don’t stick around after work.

“There’s nothing for them to do here. There needs to be a strategic focus to try to somehow drive that part of the entertainment industry,” Huberman said. “We need more high-end industry, lounges ... look at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (in Vancouver), you can have a drink, listen, talk; we need more of that type.”

Although areas of South Surrey, such as Morgan Crossing, are starting to attract more high-end restaurants, Huberman said the rest of the city is distinctly lacking in them.

She noted Surrey’s vision for the City Centre — which the city is developing as a second Metro downtown to Vancouver’s downtown — includes a performing arts centre, which would offer a mix of live theatre, performances and alternative art forms. She said a proposed casino resort in South Surrey, which was rejected by council last week, would have provided a much-needed entertainment venue.

“As Surrey becomes the region’s largest metropolitan areas, we need state-of-the-art elegant spaces for arts, events, theatres and more,” Huberman has said.

City officials plan to start updating town centre plans this year, some of which are 10 years old. The challenge is how to serve those communities — where 43 per cent of residents have a mother tongue other than English — while retaining their unique characteristics. Areas like Guildford, for instance, may need more child care facilities, while South Surrey and Fleetwood may need more senior support services.

“Each town centre is separate in themselves,” Watts said. “With each one we’re identifying what these needs are. That’s the challenge. It’s about building the metropolitan core in the downtown but also ensuring we have linkages to each of the town centres.”

Work has already started on some projects, such as aquatic centres with Olympic-sized pools for Guildford and South Surrey, a covered youth park and recreation centre in Cloverdale, the new Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in Whalley, a 1,600-seat art theatre for South Surrey, and walking and cycling trails across the city.

Surrey has been able to keep pace with its rapid growth because of a $400-million Build Surrey program, launched in 2009 to boost the economy and provide amenities in the town centres. The program is unique, Lamontagne said, noting Vancouver did something similar during the 2010 Olympics to replace aging infrastructure at Riley Park. Surrey’s efforts, however, are more comprehensive.

Surrey’s transformation has already started in the new City Centre, at King George Boulevard and 102nd Avenue. A Bing-Thom-designed library, Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus, and new City Hall have helped shape the area into a walkable, transit-oriented downtown core. Surrey Memorial Hospital’s new outpatient centre, and the new precinct for the RCMP’s B.C. headquarters, buffer the development.

But, Hepner noted, “there are gaps.” Surrey is putting in more ice surfaces this year at the Fleetwood arena, partly because it’s more economical to add ice to an existing complex. Yet new ice is needed in Cloverdale. While the entire city can use the Fleetwood arena, it’s a fair drive from Cloverdale.

Lamontagne maintains the city considers the projections for all areas before deciding what gets built where. He noted recreation centres and libraries are crucial as they provide meeting spaces for residents.

While all six town centres will see increased densification, it will be at different degrees.

“Some people prefer the dense urban environment in the City Centre while others want to be by the ocean in Crescent Beach,” Lamontagne said. “There are different neighbourhoods that will attract people with different tastes.”

The City Centre, for instance, will maintain single-family homes on the periphery of the downtown core, while other communities will include a mix of townhouses, apartments and basement suites to ensure housing remains affordable.

Only Guildford and possibly South Surrey’s Semiahmoo Centre, both of which are on 152nd Street and have shopping malls and strong bus service, are tapped to potentially be transformed into high-density town centres similar to the City Centre in the next decade.

But that’s dependent on Surrey getting the rapid transit it needs, Lamontagne said.

Surrey is highly transit-deficient compared with Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby and Richmond. An express B-Line is slated to run along King George to Newton’s transit depot, but Watts’s transit wish list is more ambitious.

She wants light rail to run along 104th Avenue between Guildford and City Centre in Whalley; along King George Highway from Whalley to Newton (and eventually to South Surrey); and along Fraser Highway between the City Centre and Langley. Streetcars are pitched for Cloverdale, with rapid buses or community shuttles to fill in the gaps.

TransLink has made Surrey a high priority for better transit, but is struggling to find the money for it. Surrey is also facing competition from the much-denser Vancouver, which wants transit dollars to put rapid transit along the crowded Broadway corridor. Watts argues Surrey, which gives $164 million annually to TransLink, should get something in return.

“We’re shaping the city and the infrastructure is absolutely key at this point in time to ensure people are getting out of their cars and not being car-dependent,” Watts said. “The sooner we get that infrastructure in place the better.”

Gordon Price, of Simon Fraser University’s City program, agreed, noting Metro Vancouver’s original regional growth plan has called for Surrey’s six town centres to be linked by transit since the 1940s.

He noted Surrey’s low density and the original Port Mann Bridge created “motordom,” with families living on large lots, driving to work at industrial parks or into downtown Vancouver. The transit system, he said, was designed for the young, old and the disabled — not the regular commuter.

But Surrey has taken steps to urbanize and densify its City Centre and made a strong pitch for light rail. “Its aspirations are very different now,” Price said. “That’s where the fastest growth is and what they’re doing south of the Fraser is more important than what’s happening in Vancouver.”

Guildford, he said, has tremendous potential to become another Oakridge, with densification and light rail fanning out across the city. But if transit doesn’t come soon, drivers would be tempted to stay in their cars, especially with the newly widened Highway 1 and Port Mann Bridge nearby.

“We’ve got a critical moment to shape the fastest-growing city in the region,” Price said. “Everybody should get behind Surrey. The stakes for Surrey are just as high as it’s ever been.”

The disparity is evident across the region. Whalley, and the new City Centre, is better off than most, with four SkyTrain stations — Gateway, Scott Road, Surrey Central and King George. But critics argue those stations only serve to help people get in and out of Surrey to other parts of Metro, and not to other points within the city. There are buses, but they are few and infrequent.

Meanwhile, Surrey is working on other forms of transportation in the town centre strategies.

City officials plan to develop 75 kilometres of greenway trails, which will be used to connect many of the town centres through bikes and walking paths. Off-road trails in Green Timbers, and power line right-of-ways in Newton and Fleetwood, are also potential pathways that could be developed as part of the greenways plan.

Lamontagne said while the City Centre is developing, the city hasn’t lost sight of its plans to remain the City of Parks. From the new Central City tower, next to the SFU campus, one can see the Fraser River, Green Timbers Urban Park and even the North Shore mountains.

“It’s interesting because you can see a lot of green.”


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