Lesson in School Closure 101
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 email@example.com