Trustees vote to start school closure process

NANAIMO Major changes across school district could be in the works.

Major changes across Nanaimo school district could be in the works.

Trustees voted unanimously to start work on a draft 10-year facilities plan, subject to a 60-day public consultation process, at Wednesday’s board meeting.

The plan, based on a private consultant’s recommendations made public two weeks ago, includes closing a net total of 10 school facilities, rebuilding four facilities, pursuing the addition of enrichment programs to a number of schools, relocating the learning alternative programs, adjusting the French immersion program and relocating administrative functions.

The 60-day public consultation process on the draft plan began Friday.

The most immediate actions include closing the junior learning alternatives site at Five Acres as well as closing South Wellington and North Oyster elementary schools at the end of June, with students going to Woodbank Primary and North Cedar Intermediate.

Over the next few years the proposal is to move Cedar Secondary students to John Barsby and then move all elementary students in the area into the Cedar Secondary building, closing all four elementary schools currently operating in Cedar.

Other consolidations include putting all Ladysmith students into one elementary and one secondary school, and closing Woodlands Secondary and Departure Bay Elementary.

If all of the plan’s recommendations are implemented, it is expected that in 10 years, the district would operate 24 elementary and five secondary schools instead of the current seven secondary, 31 elementary and two learning alternatives facilities.

Financial savings of the plan are estimated at about $1.3 million per year for the first five years, then $330,000 per year for the last five years and $6.4 million is staff’s conservative estimate of the minimum amount of money the district stands to gain by selling properties it no longer requires. That money would be used to renovate and update existing schools.

More than 100 people showed up to hear about the draft plan and question period was dominated by people associated with Cedar and Ladysmith schools.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the board has heard from people who think this type of change is long overdue and others who want to keep the status quo.

“We’re getting it from all quarters and I think that is going to be the theme going forward,” said Brennan. “It’s going to be a bumpy few months.”

Parent Wendy Wise, whose daughter attends North Oyster, is unhappy with the proposal to move her daughter twice – first to Woodbank and then to a new elementary at the Cedar Secondary site – and the fact that the consultation process gives the parents no time to prepare their children if the school is closed at the end of June, as the deciding meeting isn’t until June 26.

She said it makes more sense to move all of the Cedar elementary students at once instead of disrupting students twice, adding that besides the timing of the rollout of the plan, she is in support if it means her children have access to better opportunities.

“I like small schools, but I also like more options,” said Wise. “It’s the just not knowing. It would be different if we knew at the beginning of June even.”

North Oyster’s parent advisory council, which Wise co-chairs, is organizing a meeting for parents and community members on Tuesday to decide next steps, she added, and she is encouraging parents to come with suggestions if they don’t like what is being proposed.

South Wellington parent Krista Seggie said families in that community are not sure where to focus their energy – on trying to save their school or ensuring their children survive the transfer.

“Right now we just have a lot of crying, upset kids,” she said. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s best to do for our kids.”

Seggie wonders why the district doesn’t wait and move all Cedar elementary students together so all the kids are on equal footing.

Many parents are worried that this plan will go the way of the former facilities plan, where part of the recommendations were approved and then the long-term plan was scrapped, she added.

Consultation on the district’s draft 10-year facilities plan begins with an online public engagement process from April 26 to June 10 and also includes meetings with stakeholder groups, public meetings from June 12-19, and a June 26 board meeting for trustees to consider all gathered input.

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