The Campbell River School Board was not consulted about the location of a planned social housing project near four schools, according to the board chair.
“For the record, the Board of Education was not consulted about the location of the supportive housing project prior to the decision being made by the province and the city,” said Richard Franklin in his remarks as board chair at the beginning of the first school board meeting of the academic year.
He said the board and city representatives meet biannually and neither the location of the project, nor the project itself were ever discussed.
“No doubt there are reasons for this,” he said, “but I don’t know what they are.”
At the meeting, trustees received two letters pertaining to a planned social housing project at 580 Dogwood St. The first, received on July 27, is from BC Housing, the City of Campbell River and the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society (VIMHS), announcing the project, its planned construction start date of this fall and just over three pages of frequently asked questions.
The other letter, received Aug. 10, is signed by two concerned community members, Linda Kohlhofer and Nicki MacKenzie, who write they are concerned with the lack of community engagement prior to the project being approved as well as how close the location is to four schools and three daycares.
“Our first and MAJOR [sic] concern is the fact this development will be within extreme close proximity of four district schools,” they write. “Our students will be walking by this housing every single school day multiple times a day.
“The fear of needles, condoms (biohazards) and intimidation from residents of this Supportive Housing is first and foremost concern of all the neighbourhood. The residents of this housing are considered high risk, and having that around our children on a daily basis has parents beyond fearful.”
Board vice-chair John Kerr said he sympathized with the writers’ concerns over “what they say is a lack of consultation and their concerns with the possible effects of this project on School District 72 and the possible social consequences of this project on the neighbourhood.”
However, he said it was not within his mandate as a board trustee to comment on the project.
“This decision has already been made by the city and province and will undoubtedly move ahead,” he said. “It is also not for me to speculate on the social consequences of placing a supportive housing facility at this location.”
Among the FAQs included in the letter from BC Housing, the City and VIMHS, is “Will supportive housing have an impact on nearby schools or daycares in my neighbourhood?”
According to BC Housing, there are 210 provincially-funded sites operating within 500 metres of a school and 52 per cent of supportive housing sites in the province have been operating for more than 10 years within 500 metres of a school.
“Please be sure that if the safety concerns you have regarding the safety of students in the neighbourhood are manifested, the school district will strongly address those concerns with those responsible for the project,” said Franklin.
Within the FAQ section, the letter mentions a Community Advisory Committee that would have representation from “BC Housing, Island Health, municipalities, RCMP, BIA/Chamber, any relevant community partners such as the school district, service providers, and community members at large, to be facilitated by a neutral third party.”
But it’s unlikely the school district will invest staff hours in the advisory committee.
“We can only stretch our administrative resources so far,” said Franklin. “So I would like the board to think very carefully before committing any time and effort into a decision and project about which we were never consulted.”
Trustee Kerr agreed, saying he did not support the school district’s involvement in the project because it was made without its input. Further, he said, devoting time to the project does not align with the board’s mandate, which is to provide educational opportunities to children from kindergarten to Grade 12. It also does not align with the board’s relatively new strategic plan, which outlines the following three priorities: improve student achievement, build a culture of learning and wellness, and honour Indigenous world views and perspectives.
Kerr said the district’s administrative team was small and was already busy supporting students this year.
“In addition, the current situation which has forced major changes in how education is provided often with multiple changes on short notice has placed additional heavy demands on our senior staff,” he said. “To place additional demands on our educational leaders to develop responses to the request for input on running a successful supportive housing program is not something I as a trustee am willing to support.”
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