School District #27 (SD27) trustees have cancelled their plans to increase the size of the gym at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO) to accommodate all the students from the 100 Mile House Junior Secondary closing this year.
Concerned teachers, parents and staff met with SD27 chair Will Van Osch and Trustee Chris Pettman at PSO on Feb. 20 to ask why the board is not moving forward with all of its planned upgrades.
Meeting facilitator Myra Newstead said stakeholders had been told PSO would be upgraded in its planned reconfiguration to grades 8-12, and teachers, parents and staff wanted to know why this has changed.
SD27 board chair Will Van Osch said trustees recently learned its reconfiguration plan for PSO developed to deal with Ministry of Education budget cuts would likely not be approved as it stands by the ministry.
The trustees’ proposal included adding a mechanical shop, expanding the gymnasium, and minor renovations to existing science and home economics labs, as well as to metal and wood shops.
Together with a contingency fund, about $2 million has been budgeted, so Newstead noted one key question the stakeholders had is where that money is going?
“It appears that the cost of the renovations has been covered already … so why is this not happening at this time?”
Van Osch said the money to do the upgrades the board “thought were necessary” to handle the extra students and some existing needs at the school would come from $2.2 million left in its capital fund from some North End (schools) asset sales.
He explained SD27 discussed its initial intentions last spring with the ministry’s Capital Branch – which must approve any capital project bylaws – and were told to come up with a plan and submit it.
That plan included all the expansions, he said, but when SD27 secretary treasurer Bonnie Roller recently talked to the Capital Branch just before the plan was submitted, she was told PSO already exceeds the ministry-allotted “design space.”
“They said to [Roller]: ‘if you apply for the new gymnasium, it will delay the process; it’s quite likely that it won’t meet the criteria’.”
The mechanical shop and other upgrades meet criteria, but the gym expansion falls into design space (which includes PSO’s large foyer and hallways), Van Osch said, adding it would exceed the allowable square-metre footprint for the school’s size and enrolment forecasts.
He said Roller suggested the board remove the gym from its plan “for now,” as it is “more likely” the overall project will then get approved and completed by September.
Parents and teachers echoed concerns that delaying the gym expansion under the presently declining enrolment projections would mean it will “never happen.”
Van Osch said he did not know how long a delay that might entail and the trustees had yet to discuss it.
However, he noted the Capital Branch criteria changes “quite often,” depending on government’s position and leadership.
Several stakeholders also voiced concerns about adding more students to the “already small” PSO gymnasium because it would put students’ safety and physical education (PE) at risk.
Newstead noted double- and triple-blocked PE will overcrowd the gym, and even with a central partition added would, for example, leave about 18 students sitting on the sidelines while 12 classmates played volleyball.
One woman noted the board made its decision to change the application without consulting stakeholders, to which Van Osch replied: “Yes, you could put it that way, but that is our job.”
Applications need to be made and timelines adhered to, he explained.
“To consider going back to consultation would have been a bit cumbersome for [reaching] a decision.”
Parent Lori Dodds asked what concerned stakeholders can do to lobby for changes, such as building a case to government around ministry criteria having changed after it had told the board to begin preparing its plan?
Van Osch said he couldn’t provide advice from the board’s perspective, but he suggested stakeholders pursue a collaborative approach.
“We could work together on the application, for sure. But, I’m only one trustee.”