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October 28, 2017 3:57 am

Lesson in School Closure 101

Monday, June 8, 2015 @ 3:45 AM

The community has been down this road before. I’ve been down this road before, here and in different communities.

It all starts with a “facilities” report, followed by assurances from the school board that no decisions have yet been made, leading to the eventual closure of schools.

This time it’s a report from Cascades Facilities Management detailing the sorry state of some of School District 57’s schools, the ever-decreasing enrolment numbers, and the plan to deal with that reality.

“No decisions have been made,” said board chair Tony Cable. “We will begin that work, including consultation with our education partners and the community, in the fall.”

If history is to be repeated, which it usually does, most, if not all, of the recommendations in the Cascades Facilities Management report will be carried out.

If there is any silver lining in all of this, it’s that it doesn’t recommend closure of scores of schools. However, make no mistakes about, school closures are coming.

“Despite the closure of 21 schools since 2001/02, the capacity in the district is still considered under-utilized as the enrolment continues to decline due to a decreasing school age population,” reads the report.

The report recommend a “funding request be made to the ministry in the school district’s five-year capital plan for the amalgamation or renovation/replacement of Blackburn, Buckhorn, Pineview and Hixon as a combined project.”

The way I read that is those will all be replaced by one school.

And there is the issue of three of the schools in the district – Spruceland Elementary, Blackburn Elementary, and Kelly Road Secondary – are all in poor condition. As for schools in poor condition, the report reads: “Those buildings in the poor category and coming to the end of their life cycle be considered for demolition to avoid becoming targets for vandalism, to reduce liability for the school district and to save on costs for their ongoing maintenance.”

It doesn’t directly say to close those schools, but there is a strong inference.

Plus, it recommends that the school district get red of “surplus” properties … previously closed schools sitting vacant and/or being used for something else and vacant property. Once again, the Blackburn neighbourhood will feel the brunt of this as, directly across Blackburn Road from the elementary school is a large chunk of land held “in reserve” for a junior high school there.

Safe to say that isn’t going to happen, so why keep the land?

All of this, of course, is due the declining enrolment numbers. None, or at least very little other than upgrading, would need to happen if there were more students in the school district. The good news is that for elementary age students, the 10-year projection calls for a slight increase, from 7,199 to 7,339 by 2023. The secondary school population, however, takes a dip from 4,948 to 4,589.

Switching gears a bit, we are continually bombarded with messages out of Victoria that British Columbia will have one million new job openings between now and 2022. That’s great. Are none of those people going to have kids? Or, more importantly, are none of those jobs going to be in Prince George? Surely with that many jobs on the horizon Prince George will benefit. Shouldn’t we be preparing for the influx of families coming for all the new jobs? Or all the new jobs in the Lower Mainland?

Something is wrong here, despite all the hype about jobs and boom times ahead, we continue to close schools.

Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at billphillips1@mac.com



one million new jobs, or is it 800,000 people retiring and in fact it is only 200,000 new new jobs.

Are school lands owned by the District or by the Education Ministry?

Well I am not in favour of closing schools but if they are only being partailly used and its not a rediculous bus trip to a different school them it may be warranted. Why pay to heat, clean, maintain etc a school only being partially used ? It makes business sense to close it.

My only concern is this gov hates public schools and teachers and they never make the decisions about schools for the kids..they make them for what they want…they dont care about the kids needs.

Excellent point He spoke. Did anyone actually say a million “new” jobs. Baby Boom is retiring and you could very well be right.

Why are schools around here not built to last longer? There are schools in downtown Vancouver that are close to 100 years old and are retrofitted to today’s classroom needs. There is a very nice older school in downtown Kamloops, as well as many other smaller cities as well.

PGSS seems to be in better shape than Kelly Rd. If that is the case, why?

As far as the jobs calculation goes, if one looks back in recent history the attrition rate expected due to the retiring cohort growing does not make up for those huge figures. They come mainly from the expected expansion in the oil and gas industry. Let us wait and see what happens with that. Seems the government is doing exactly that since they are not making any moves to fund the appropriate post secondary programs.

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 @ 10:44 AM by Sophic Sage

“to dispose of sites (land only) and closed schools (land and buildings) that are surplus to the current and “future” needs of the school district.”

When you see this in a School District’s long range facility plan, you know they are planning for long term economic stagnation in the district. So when Krusty Clark and her entourage fly up here, and she starts spreading her Prince George is on the verge of an “economic boom” crap, reminder her that our school district is selling land and schools because they are surplus to the current and FUTURE needs of the school district!

They are replacing all the Light Fixtures and Lights, the Entire Heating System in each room, Classroom Sinks and Countertops and Woodwork throughout Spruceland School right at this moment.
Lots of Money being spent on a School that may be closed and torn down.

“Krusty” is on the same lines as “krispy” and other nicknames. It makes the post completely worthless and not worth the time to read. I’m surprised whoever is paying you to post allows that.

If Blackburn school is in need of replacement it makes economic sense to rebuild it larger and close Pineview and Hixon. One larger school is far cheaper to maintain and operate than three small ones. Nukko Lake and Beaverly should face the same fate in the near future as the bus ride would only be minutes longer to Heather Park or Vanway.

The Hart does need a high school so I would think that Kelly Road will be replaced. Schools reaching the end of serviceable life should not be kept open because of future growth as there is nothing to say that growth will occur in that catchment area. Growth seems to be leaning toward the west end and any future overcrowding in schools in that part of town can be solved in the short term by using portables.

As for future growth in the area there are numerous people who are willing to invest their own hard earned money betting that there will be the need for substantially more hotel rooms in the coming years with no less than 4 projects in various stages of development. I don’t think they are scrambling to get the clients displaced when the Homestead lost their business license.

SSDD as the loonies can do nothing more than flap their left wing and their gums.

sparrow states; “…hard earned money betting that there will be the need for substantially more hotel rooms in the coming years with no less than 4 projects in various stages of development.”

What does this have to do with filling our schools? Building hotel rooms that house transient fly-in, fly-out camp workers will not fill our schools. We need permanent full-time local jobs for local people, so they can raise “families” in our area, this is what will increase housing starts and build homes, and this is what will fill our schools with new kids.

So many on here gripping about how much more public workers make compared to the private worker, well guess what? $15 an hour will not raise a family, or build a house… are you begining to understand why PG and are has been stagnant for so long? Too many jobs paying too little money to encourage raising a family!!!

“According to MoneySense.ca, the average cost of raising a child to age 18 is a whopping $243,660. Break down that number, and that’s $12,825 per child, per year — or $1,070 per month.” How can anyone making $15 an hour afford to raise a child?

Sage you display your ignorance once again. People raise kids on welfare at significantly less than 1,000 a month.
Most workers in Vancouver make minimum wage since it was raised. Even corporations pay minimum with very little in the term of “raises” that actually have to be “earned”. Our daughter works for a very large multinational (not Walmart or anything like that) and took a huge pay cut to move with her friends to New West to the tune of over 1,000 per month. Here she was earning over 40k a year and there less than 30k. In PG you can still buy a house and have a mortgage of 1,000 per month – try that in Burnaby or anywhere close to Vancouver without ending up paying over 4,000 a month just to the bank. PG remains affordable for buying a house for people over other jurisdictions in relation to wage/mortgage – just wish our city hall could get their spending habits under control.

Should have said “transfer” instead of “move” – the wage here is 15.00 per hour and the wage for the same exact job in Vancouver is 10.25 with the same benefits and commissions package and raise evaluation every 6 months. Should have been a bit more clear on that to which I am sorry.

slinky; Referring to “welfare” in your first sentence does nothing more than underline one of the reasons we have such a high child poverty rate.

The rest of your comment revolves aimlessly around the cost of housing… again what does that have to do with filling our schools with children? In fact not once did you even mention “schools” in your comment, thanks for staying on-topic!

slinky; perhaps you can copy and save your comment, then reuse it, when an article about housing appears, in the future, on this site?

“How can anyone making $15 an hour afford to raise a child?”

That is not the demographic that should be popping kids out left and right anyway. We already have plenty of future walmart employees and french fry cooks in the on deck circle.

If those who have made a success of themselves through education, hard work or dogged determination would have another kid or two then we might be getting somewhere. Those kids would learn that they are the ones responsible and accountable for their own success. Then there is the dipper method…raise the bar screw that…keep upping the minimum wage till the lazy loafers can afford everything that a person who works their butt off has.

Nothing I have seen in the hotel proposals would suggest they are directed at long term stays but more at business travel where execs, engineers and project managers are in town from the Vancouver or Calgary for a day or two.

Sophic, I’m usually pretty politically incorrect and I have no problem telling it like it is! So, it doesn’t hurt my feelings at all to suggest that one of the reasons that we have a high child poverty rate is that there are far too many people getting busy having babies when they should be putting a bit more emphasis in being a bit more financially stable before getting busy!

We also have a justice system that too often fails to put in enough effort to get financial support form absentee Daddies!

So the way I see this is that not at all should Hixon be considered for closure. However Buckhorn, Pineview and Blackburn all stand within 20ish km of each other. School District 57 encompasses a very large demographic area, if you want to keep that area you need to strategically place your schools and catchment areas. Blackburn takes in a large catchment area that overlaps into Giscome catchment area (Purden is part of Giscome, but to get to Purden you have to go through Blackburns Catchment area) This causes a problem for low enrollment in Giscome. Giscomes catchment area should take all of Upper Fraser rd and anything east to Purden, after Purden the catchment area would be going towards McBride and Valemont. This way there is no overlapping. If schools must close than like I said you need schools strategically placed so that four year olds are not spending upwards of 3 hours a day on a bus. Catchment areas need reassessing. I hate to say that what should be left is one school in the Buckhorn/Pineview/Blackburn area, Hixon and Giscome should be taking more students from the center outwards. THIS is common sense. Blackburn is also a city school….the rest of those schools are Rural schools, there is extra funding for rural schools…does that mean Blackburn who takes in a significant amount of rural students are taking from that fund? I don’t know but am curious to know. If it is than they are also taking away from the funding of these rural schools that could be sustaining. That is just my two cents.

taxednmaxed; good comment, on point, makes a lot of sense. A version of your suggestions on changing catchment areas, and closing at least one school (Blackburn?) probably will happen.

I just find it sad that more children will be spending more time on busses, as the catchment areas for their schools increase in size. Neighbourhood schools are disappearing, as are local schools in rural areas, and the decisions school boards are forced to make, throughout BC, will result in rural school catchment areas, becoming the size of some entire school districts in the lower mainland.

This happened during the last wave of school closures, where Salmon Valley’s school was closed, and a school in the Hart had its catchment area increased to include Salmon Valley. Imagine that; families living a rural life, sending their children to the city for their education. This could happen again, if the school district still has that vision for “centralizing” education nearer to the city. One thing is for sure; the School District must do a better job in consulting with the families living in those rural areas, and the Fraser Fort George Regional District, before decisions are made to close any rural school.

So… in the interests of closing schools, and making existing school catchment areas larger, what should they be looking at next? We are already hearing rumblings about increasing the size of school districts, where for example; the Prince George School District could be increased in size to include the Nechako Lakes District. Why not go larger? Let’s have a school district the same size as the area Northern Health services, imagine all that administration money that could be saved by eliminating each of those smaller school districts administration costs. “Centralize” and “Go Bigger”, unfortunately this will come with a cost; called “local control over local education”. It’s already happening at the school level, because when it comes to closing rural schools, their “local school” won’t be so local anymore.

Posted on Monday, June 8, 2015 @ 2:32 PM by Sophic Sage

slinky; Referring to “welfare” in your first sentence does nothing more than underline one of the reasons we have such a high child poverty rate.

The rest of your comment revolves aimlessly around the cost of housing… again what does that have to do with filling our schools with children? In fact not once did you even mention “schools” in your comment, thanks for staying on-topic!


You berate sparrow and then go on about pay rates and housing. Maybe reread your aimless comment and then rereply. I was replying to YOUR comment not the article as a whole.

“So many on here gripping about how much more public workers make compared to the private worker, well guess what? $15 an hour will not raise a family, or build a house… are you begining to understand why PG and are has been stagnant for so long? Too many jobs paying too little money to encourage raising a family!!! ”

15 bucks an hour is not why PG has been stagnant and not growing, sorry to disappoint, thought that you would get that through showing you that Vancouver has wages for the same employment way below what you get in PG – and they are not stagnant. A couple making 15 dollars an hour CAN buy a house in PG (and do), and CAN raise a family (and do), and can send them to school in PG. People raise families on welfare all throughout the province and send them to school. Younger family oriented people do not always leave PG for other areas to raise a family because the pay is higher, they leave for the social life, something our council and city has no idea how to provide or allow others to provide. Hotels in PG won’t house transients for fly in jobs – PG doesn’t have any fly in jobs. Your reasoning is almost as bad as blaming an earthquake on some nudists on a sacred mountain.

Towards the article: Maybe get better teachers so people don’t have to chose private school over public or even home schooling to keep enrollment up. We have had the discussion in our household to change to a Montessori school next year – not because our wage is low or we can’t afford a house or we are flying in to work from a hotel – but because our boy can’t stand school so much he hides my shoes so I can’t take him to school in the morning. Not because he hates seeing/playing with his friends or hates the lessons but rather hates the way he is treated. Beginning of the year he loved school and couldn’t wait to go, now tries any excuse not to go unless there is a sub. Shouldn’t be that way in grade 1, or any grade for that matter.

No one on this site steers the conversation off topic, and towards areas that interest you, and your knowledge base, than you slinky. Look at the gambling on BC ferries story, not familiar or comfortable with the subject of slot machines in the lobby area of the ship?, pull everyone down into the engine room and talk about what you want to talk about; diesel engines verse natrual gas.

Yawn, same old, same old…

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