Cowichan Valley School District No. 79 CEO Robin Gray listens to comments at the public meeting on the old Crofton Elementary School. (Photo submitted)

Community meeting aids SD79 in process of making a decision on old Crofton Elementary site

Public and district staff share information and ideas on what can be done

The old Crofton Elementary School site served the community well for a long time. But after sitting dormant now for more than a decade, it’s time to move on.

A public consultation meeting last Thursday hosted by Cowichan Valley School District 79, now the sole owners of the property, moved the process along about what to eventually do with the site and attracted about 50 people in addition to School District representatives, including: Candace Spilsbury, Board Chair; Jason Sandquist, Secretary-Treasurer; Robin Gray, Superintendent of Learning and CEO; Denise Augustine, Director of Aboriginal Learning and Engagement; Tom Longridge, Associate Superintendent; Pearce Jones, President Student Advisory Committee, IT staff; and various Principals/Vice Principals as table top exercise facilitators.

School District Trustees Elzabeth Croft and Barb de Groot also attended.

Spilsbury began with an apology to community members for the length of time it has taken both for the board, and previous boards, to deal with the unsightly property.

Spilsbury introduced Gray, who explained the process of the public meeting, beginning with a presentation by Sandquist who laid out the following details:

* The old Crofton Elementary School was open from 1948-2009.

* The property is 2.47 acres.

* New schools must be a minimum of 3.47 acres, eliminating the property from being repurposed as a school site.

* In 2009, the building was deemed as being 92 per cent in need of replacement, with only the gym as the outstanding 8 per cent being usable.

* Since 2009, deterioration of the building made it unsalvageable and 100 per cent unusable, including the gym.

* In 2013, a legal opinion was sought to clarify title of the lands and its 20 lots. It was a complex situation with SD79, Crown, Crown to Municipality of North Cowichan, and North Cowichan on its own all owning portions.

* In 2017, the school was officially closed as a housekeeping item, attempts to access “slippage funds” for demolition have been sought unsuccessfully since that time.

* In 2018, title was clarified for the three parties above.

As of April 2019, SD79 owns the lands, but must follow the province’s direction/regulations regarding the disposal process and ultimately deems how profits from land sales can be spent.

There is no discretionary capital available in the district’s local capital fund at this time for demolition and using Operating Capital funds is not palatable. The slippage fund application criteria has also now changed and is only for rural schools and the site does not qualify.

A new ministry fund has been set up for demolition funding requests other than rural areas in the amount of $5 million and an application will go in this fall with SD79’s Annual Capital Plan submission. Decisions on the fund are not expected to be made until the spring of 2020.

On May 7, 2019 a motion was passed at a SD79 meeting to hold public consultation as required prior to any disposal. In the meantime, the district is researching several items and fulfilling certain requirements in addition to the consultation with the public completed Thursday. This includes consultation with the local government as required, determining the necessity of the district within Crofton over the next 10 years as required, working with the ministry to obtain permission to dispose of the lands, obtaining appraisals for the value of the property, and obtaining current costs for demolition with the last estimate needing to be updated.

About 35 submissions were received for a survey that was part of the public consultation process.

A request from the public was put forth regarding a geotechnical assessment of the property for building purposes and this was added to the SD79 task list.

It wasn’t brought up at the meeting, but assumed if the lands are sold there is the possibility of a rezoning process from the current Public Use zoning.

Table top exercises with facilitators were then conducted to answer a specific question followed by brainstorming and the presentation of each table’s ideas by community members.

From those exercises some of the suggestions were as follows:

* Consensus seemed to be to sell the property and use funds within Crofton.

* Some would like to see it kept as a school property but property size doesn’t align with this.

* Land swap potential.

* Spend 1.4 million to build two classroom additions as per the original design of the school.

* Use sale funds to bring Grade 7s back to Crofton, a popular item.

* Youth focus for use of any monies from sale.

* Affordable housing.

* Portion for parking for fire hall and Crofton Community Centre overflow.

Attendees struggled with the knowledge that all funds from a sale would go back into SD79 as per ministry guidelines and would be spent as district funds voted on by the board which may or may not be spent directly within the community.

Some felt not enough information was presented and some appeared angry this was going to be the only public meeting. Spilsbury explained the district has all the information it needs to make a decision.

Some were disappointed no timeline was provided, but Shannon Carlow, who’s been a community advocate regarding the site noted she agreed with SD79 that would be impossible. “I do feel they have moved quickly in this past year and even more so this past month,” she added.

A letter writing campaign to the ministry regarding what the community would like to see was suggested, but Carlow felt that would be preemptive.

“After the meeting I advised the suggester and Candace that the letter campaign to write this fall would be to ask them to allocate the monies from the new fund for demolition,” she indicated. “Going forward, other campaigns could be conducted. Candace agreed this made sense.

“At the end of the day, we are moving forward and for this I am appreciative, encouraged and grateful,” Carlow added. “I truly feel the district will move this along as quickly as they can considering the extensive amount of data still to be collected, coinciding with fulfilling all requirements pertaining to the Province and local government as applicable.

“I also believe they will do their best to keep the community apprised, and I will ensure I do my utmost to ensure this project does not become idle with continued communications to SD79, the MLA and the Minister of Education. We have landed in a good place.”

 

Cowichan Valley School District No. 79 Board of Education Chair Candace Spilsbury addresses the crowd in attendance at the public meeting on the future of the old Crofton Elementary School site last Thursday. (Photo submitted)

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