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Nanaimo school trustees vote on re-opening Rutherford, Departure Bay expansion

Motion at June 8 business committee aims to see Rutherford re-opening, but not for 2023
A Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools business committee recommendation could see Rutherford Elementary School, which closed in 2018, re-opening in 2024 or 2025. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

School trustees have approved a motion intended to re-open Rutherford Elementary School in north Nanaimo.

A recommendation from Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ staff suggests re-opening the school in 2024 or 2025, dependent on enrolment from this coming October. It also includes restructuring boundaries of other catchment-area schools – McGirr, Randerson Ridge and Frank J. Ney. The school district business committee approved the motion at its June 8 meeting.

The district held public consultation related to projected north-end population growth and Departure Bay Eco-School class space issues earlier this year and re-opening Rutherford, which shuttered in 2018, was a common theme in comments submitted via e-mail, online and during a virtual open house, according to a staff report.

The move would “limit the use of portables in the north end, can allow Frank J. Ney to shift east to capture Departure Bay students as well as shrink McGirr, limit growth at Randerson Ridge and/or allow Randerson Ridge to capture green field and in-fill growth around Turner Road and potentially Green Thumb. It would also likely create some flexible space in schools in the short term,” the report said.

RELATED: SD68 to start consultation on north-end space issues

The recommendation still needs to go before trustees at the June 22 regular board meeting. Stakeholders will have further opportunity to comment.

“Further, consultation would also need to address scenarios such as whether the school would open as a [kindergarten-Grade 7] or incrementally as a kindergarten, Grade 1 [and possibly Grade 2] that would then expand by a grade level each year over a number of years is an issue for consideration,” stated the report.

There are also cost considerations, as the district may need to decide whether to allocate “accumulated operating surplus if available or reduce services in another area of the district’s operations in order to transfer them in support of the school opening,” stated the report.

Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, told the committee that north-end growth is “slower this spring at [the] elementary level.”

“We do have portables at many of our sites, but one of things is we’re not recommending that we proceed to contemplate opening Rutherford for 2023 … the cost, on a year-to-year basis, to open Rutherford is going to be between $450,000-$650,000 of additional operating funds,” said Walsh. “By 2023, we actually don’t think enrolment is going to pay for that, so the board would be faced with the idea of funding that by removing programming or lessening services to existing schools.”

Stephanie Higginson, a member of the school board that voted to close Rutherford, spoke in favour of the recommendation.

“This was a very difficult decision for the board a number of years ago and to see us be in this position, where we can contemplate this and to hear staff talk about the fact that, hopefully, it won’t have a negative impact on programming is meaningful…” Higginson said at the meeting. “It feels almost like a bittersweet full circle, but I’m really, really glad that we are in this position in the district where we can start entertaining the re-opening of schools, rather than the position we were in a number of years ago.”

The committee also approved two other north-end related recommendations at the meeting. One suggests boundary restructuring for Cilaire, Rock City and Departure Bay schools to move students out of Departure Bay school. Another recommends inclusion of Departure Bay expansion work in the district’s 2023-24 capital plan. The work wouldn’t see enrolment exceeding the current 400 students, but would remove portables, the report said.

Rutherford school is currently serving students displaced during Pleasant Valley Elementary School seismic upgrades.

RELATED: SD68 students ‘swing’ to new schools

RELATED: Students say farewell as Rutherford school closes

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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