Trustees size up school configuration options

Public input tips scales toward Grades 8-12 alternative

As deliberations narrow down to an impending decision on proposed school closures and reconfigurations, School District #27 (SD27) trustees continue to consider public feedback and staff studies on the board’s Initial Options Report (IOR).

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the board launched into reviewing and discussing further details on the impacts of various scenarios it had requested from staff in mid-December.

The numbers were crunched, for both financial and enrolment forecasts, and were perused by the trustees, along with maps of bus routes and catchment areas.

Then, one-by-one the trustees asked SD27 secretary treasurer Bonnie Roller, who prepared the reports, for further clarifications.

Many of these queries were a result of parent and stakeholder comments received in the board’s public input process, including Grades 8-12 to be accommodated at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO).

The specific question for Roller on that scenario was “will they fit at PSO,” and she said “yes – providing portable classrooms are used.”

This was in contrast to the IOR’s proposal for going to kindergarten- Grade 8 at all south end elementary schools, which Roller confirmed would also work, with minimal expansions to portables.

The same affirmative answer was given to the board’s query if Mile 108 Elementary could handle students from Lac la Hache Elementary if it closes, as follow-up on another common suggestion trustees gleaned from the public input process.

Concerns arose as to how long portables might be needed, considering timeframes for plans to renovate PSO’s gym and workshops and potential economic and enrolment fluctuations.

Board chair Will Van Osch said he thought the PSO renovations need to be done regardless of what happens, but noted going to Grades 8-12 “seems to be the preferred configuration” in the feedback he’s reviewed.

“The only thing that makes [my support of that] tentative is that we do, indeed, get the upgrades that are necessary to make it work.”

He asked what capital funds might be needed to ensure those renovations happen, if grants would be required, and what the next stages are in planning for them.

Roller said if that decision is made, a process will commence during which architects and mechanical engineers assess what work is needed and possible, and where there might be space for these upgrades.

“I believe we said about six months for that, and then the overall, really ‘soft’ budget was $500,000,” said Roller.

“The board could have access to capital monies restricted by the ministry, but … over time, annual facilities grants could be used for that if we really got stuck.”

She assured Van Osch it is “just a matter of budgeting those types of things” should the ministry for some unforeseen reason deny the project. Roller added she doesn’t expect that would happen.

Two parents attended the open board meeting, despite it being held in 100 Mile House rather than the Williams Lake SD27 office location.

One of them, Elke Baechmann, thanked the board for consulting parents, noting the trustees did “a good job” on that and said she thought they were “going in the right direction.”

The other parent asked if public input was still allowed, and was told the trustees will consider any suggestions right up until the time it makes its decision, which is due to happen at its Jan. 22 board meeting.