While Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees have voted against tearing down South Wellington Elementary School next school year, it could cost up to $3 million-plus to renovate the shuttered building.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools had listed demolition of the school, located south of Nanaimo, in its 2020/21 capital project list, but area residents are seeking to convert it to a resource/community centre. At a special meeting July 2, the school board voted not to proceed with razing the structure in the coming school year.
The school was closed in 2013 and staff previously referred to the building as dilapidated, with seismic issues that need addressing. The school district consulted with the community and conferred with the Regional District of Nanaimo, as the school is situated in RDN Area A, and at the meeting, Mark Walsh, school district secretary-treasurer, updated trustees on the situation.
“The RDN was given access to the building to do essentially a report to talk about what kind of financial input would be required into the facility to bring it up to a standard, that if the [school board] was interested in creating a deal with a group, RDN or otherwise, what it would take to bring the building to where it could be used as a community site … but it’s essentially a minimum of $1 million approximately for a minor upgrade and a major upgrade being over $3 million,” said Walsh.
With demolition off the table for the time being, Tom Osborne, RDN general manager of recreation and parks, said the regional district will work with a group advocating for the school to be repurposed as a resource centre (South Wellington and Area Community Association) and the school district on operating models for community use of the school.
Among feedback the school district received were comments there was insufficient time to consult with the local community. Susan Toth, South Wellington and Area Community Association co-chairperson, said the latest news was a “positive move.” In terms of whether $1 million or $3 million would be enough for repairs, Toth told the News Bulletin it is too soon to tell.
“We haven’t even got anywhere close to that,” said Toth. “These talks are going to [go] on for, I would think, quite sometime … we have to wait to see how the talks with the school district and the RDN go and then the RDN will be in touch with us and then we’ll be involved with discussions at that point. There’s a lot of detail to work out right now.”
At the meeting, another motion passed that will see school district staff consulting with the B.C. Ministry of Education to reallocate South Wellington school project money to demolition of an old school district building on Selby Street.
Walsh said the district doesn’t have the money to operate a facility “that is not being used for its core educational purposes.” While the district said in staff report that it will give the community and the RDN time to develop a plan for the facility, if that doesn’t materialize, it is recommended demolition be included on the capital plan for 2021/22.
Osborne said the subject will be back before the RDN board again in the fall.