Rural school use to be examined

While the biggest news for most coming out of School District 72 (SD72) these days is about the upcoming elementary school closures within the greater Campbell River area, there were many other decisions made as part of the 10-year Facility Plan adopted at the last public meeting of the Board of Education, as well.

For example, it was decided that during Phase Two of the plan, there would be a review of the use of the rural schools in the district, as well.

“The Board of Education and senior management understands the importance of rural schools to the communities they serve, and we’d like to look for ways to continue to support those communities with the aim of providing the best possible learning environments,” Superintendent Tom Longridge told the board during the reading of the recommendation contained in the plan. Currently, however, the district has a surplus of 21 classrooms in the district’s four rural schools, Longridge told the board, which needs to be addressed. The four rural schools are Sayward, Quadra Island, Cortes Island and Surge Narrows. That doesn’t necessarily mean closures of those facilities.  It does, however, mean that SD72 needs to begin having, “a deep and meaningful consultation with community stakeholders (and) the true cost of operating, maintaining, repairing and updating these facilities needs to be examined, because unused space increases a building’s operating costs,” Longridge said.

Basically, it’s a problem that anywhere from 40 to 86 per cent of classrooms in rural schools are sitting empty.  And it’s a problem that needs to be fixed for those schools to be able to continue operating.

That could mean “right-sizing” buildings so they fit the number of students making use of them, or it could mean looking for ways to share the cost of the facilities with other programs or organizations that could also be making use of them. Trustee John Kerr served as vice principal of two of the district’s rural schools, and principal of a third, and said the district really does need to look at how these facilities are being used.

“This makes sense to my head, but to my heart it’s a difficult one,” he said. “I really don’t know what the answer is going to be on this, but I do believe we need to look at these facilities and how they are being utilized, and if there are changes that need to be made, we need to look into possibilities in consultation with the communities in which they are situated.”

Trustee Daryl Hagen said he likes the direction of the discussion.

“Over the years, we’ve fought tooth and nail to maintain our outlying areas, because they are the heart and soul of some of these communities. I’m glad that we’re not talking about closure, but we’re talking about ‘how can we change things in these schools so that they work for us and work for the communities they’re in?’”

Phase two of the plan begins next September and runs through 2019.