Another meeting, another no to closing Creston Education Centre

Another meeting, another no to closing Creston Education Centre

Late in the meeting, a bombshell was lobbed at the suitability of moving HomeLinks to a much smaller building.

At a meeting organized by the HomeLinks Parent Advisory committee on Monday night, parents, students, elected officials and other Creston Valley residents hammered away at a common message—do not close the Creston Education Centre.

But, with Creston area trustees Cody Beebe and Heather Suttie (Rebecca Huscroft informed the PAC she was ill) seated in the front row, School District No. 8 chair Lenora Trenamen reiterated by telephone that any change in a plan to move HomeLinks and Wildflower programs to the PCSS property and close CEC is unlikely.

Late in the meeting, a bombshell was lobbed at the suitability of moving HomeLinks to a much smaller building. Mormon Hills School (Bountiful) principal Peter Blackmore read a statement revealing plans to reduce its program delivery and move about 60 more students into the HomeLinks program.

Earlier in the meeting, both RDCK Area A Director Garry Jackman and Area B Director Tanya Wall implored the school district to give a community group more time to come up with an alternative plan to keep CEC open with all programs intact. Wall urged parents to take up their cause with Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall.

“She is also a minister now, and she sits directly across from the Minister of Education. She is a good connection—use her.”

“We need to sit and talk, not to write letters,” Jackman said after Trenamen insisted that no offer to purchase the property had been received from the committee that includes Valley Community Services, Town of Creston and RDCK representatives and the Creston Valley Housing Society.

Wall spoke of traveling to a Board of School Trustees meeting in Nelson recently, only to arrive and be told that the closure would go ahead, after a board discussion in a closed meeting preceded the regular monthly board meeting.

“I don’t know what you are referring to,” Trenamen said, although in another meeting with CEC parents a week earlier she spoke about the closed meeting discussion.

Jackman described the school district’s insistence on closing CEC, despite a trend that sees more younger families moving into the Creston area, as hasty and unlikely to produce significant savings while jeopardizing families’ access to the myriad of early childhood programs and services currently located in the building.

Earlier in the school district’s facility review process, six Kootenay Lake School District were identified for closure, a number that then dropped to four. Yahk Elementary was closed in 2017, he said, and Creston is about to lose CEC. But the two schools identified in the District’s west side will remain in operation until 2019, at which point “discussions” will be held with the communities affected.

He also implored trustees to keep in mind that the CEC property zoning prohibits commercial use.

“The property has no commercial value,” he said, “but it has a huge community value.”

Throughout the process Jackman has objected to the need for the Creston Valley to pay for a property that it has already paid for. (Of relevance, another commenter wrote to the Advance last week, was the sale of Wynndel Elementary School to a community organization for $25,000, when an offer from a private school was on the table for $200,000.)

Numerous objections were put forward to the District’s most recent plan to move HomeLinks and Wildflower programs into the former school board office on Canyon Street and 16th Avenue.

A question about how plans for the Cook Street Highway 3 realignment plan would affect the future of that location brought a comment from Suttie that the board of trustees opposed giving up any property for the intersection realignment. Not lost on the parents was the irony that a school district that opposes any road change that would move traffic closer to the high school is busy making plans to relocate about 200 students to a building only a few meters from Canyon Street/Highway 3.

Social worker and business owner Bryce Loughran said that Creston residents are polite and that they need to become less so.

“If this was happening in Nelson there would be a furor,” he said.

After Blackmore made his statement about the potential for 60 more students to be added to a Homelinks program that is already 180-strong, Bountiful resident and teacher Merrill Palmer spoke against any change that would jeopardize the value of the home-school support programs and the integration of early childhood education programs. Just as importantly, he said, the decision makes no economic sense.

“The School District is betting that parents will not remove their children from HomeLinks if it is moved, despite what they have been told,” he said. “But if even 40 students are lost, the District loses nearly a half million dollars in funding. And the 60 extra students from Mormon Hills Schools means another $700,000 or so. Is this District willing to walk away from more than a million dollars a year?”

With Suttie having told the meeting that she and Beebe are advocates for keeping the CEC in operation, and not a single voice in the room expressing support for its disposal, only Trenamen was left to defend the Board of Trustees’ position. That voice was lost half-way through the meeting when the phone connection failed.

Included in the objections by a variety of speakers were several potential legal hurdles.

• A distributed drawing of how the former school board building would be renovated to accommodate Homelinks and Wildflower students shows classrooms that are smaller than Ministry of Education standards, one parent pointed out.

• Former Creston Valley School Teachers’ Association representative Becky Blair said that the Minister of Education must approve any school closure, and that approval has not been given. Suttie confirmed that no approval has been received.

• The Ministry of Education mandates school districts to work with local communities in all school facility matters and to work with existing policies, which would include the Town of Creston’s Official Community Plan that was adopted last year and which doesn’t not support the closure of any SD8 school in Creston.