Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ trustees are slated to receive a report about the old South Wellington Elementary School on June 24. (Chris Bush/Nanaimo News Bulletin)

South Wellington community association hopes to save old school from demolition

Nanaimo school district staff to report on fate of South Wellington Elementary later this month

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district is considering demolition of the old South Wellington school, but the community association there hopes to save the building from the wrecking ball.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ staff are expected to present a recommendation June 24 on whether to proceed with tearing down the school, which was closed in summer 2013. Susan Toth, South Wellington and Area Community Association co-chairperson, is hoping the site can become a community resource centre.

Toth told the News Bulletin there are no amenities, playgrounds or community centres in the area and she envisions a facility similar to those in neighbouring areas.

“If you’ve ever looked at the Cowichan Valley hub, that’s a three-storey school that’s 100 years old and they have renovated and it is run by a society in partnership with the [Cowichan Valley regional and school districts],” said Toth. “They have a little coffee shop, the rooms are rented for all kinds of programs … I just look at the building being viable as such an asset to the community because, when the school was closed, everybody kind of lost connection and so there’s nowhere to have any events really.”

In April, trustees approved a motion to meet with the association and Regional District of Nanaimo as part of business case development for demolition. Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, provided an update at the May 27 board meeting, saying the RDN wishes to have the opportunity to see the condition of the facilities.

“We know the building cannot be used as a school building without significant modifications, seismic upgrading as well as the facility is just not suited for that purpose given its size,” Walsh said. “But the RDN is looking to see if there’s potentially alternative uses that wouldn’t cost the full amount to upgrade it … we’ll keep the board apprised of any further developments on that front.”

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Toth understands why the district is considering demolition, as there is an opportunity to access government funding to do so, but she wonders if there are other options.

“If the building is structurally sound, it costs more to build new than it does to renovate and why would you demolish that?… ” asked Toth. “But the reading I sort of got was even though they would get the funding, doesn’t mean if we come up with an alternative, that they would have to go through with the project and that kind of all stems on the (RDN) assessment, too.”

In an e-mail, Keith Wilson, RDN director for the South Wellington area, said both the association and regional district are awaiting the results of the condition assessment, which will include “estimated cost of repairs needed for the building to be used as a community recreation centre.” The RDN and school district have worked on similar agreements in the past, such as for the Cedar Heritage Centre.

“I expect that assessment to be ready for the June 23 meeting, where the board will decide whether or not the RDN will enter into an agreement with the school district to acquire, in some form or other, the school. There is no discussion currently on the land upon which the school is located. It will remain with the school district,” Wilson said.

While B.C.’s Ministry of Education gave a June 1 deadline for a draft business case, Walsh told trustees the ministry indicated that if the district decides to demolish the building, and is confident work can be completed by March, end of the ministry fiscal year, the plan can be submitted “a little bit past June.”

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