The School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) board of trustees met May 31 with Creston town council and Regional District of Central Kootenay directors John Kettle and Garry Jackman to discuss joint-use agreements, the Creston Education Centre and Prince Charles Theatre, among other issues.
“We really need to talk more,” school board chair Mel Joy said at the end of the meeting. “I think that’s the big lesson from today.”
Jackman said one bone of contention, the lack of a joint-use agreement for recreation facilities in Creston, appears to have largely been solved.
“It is my understanding that (Prince Charles Secondary School principal) Sharen Popoff and (Creston and District Community Complex manager of recreation) Randy Fediuk have worked out the situation quite nicely,” he said. “What we probably should be doing is asking them to put whatever agreement they have made in writing so we can see it.”
Another controversial issue, the cost of operating Prince Charles Theatre, has not found a similar resolution. Last year, the Town of Creston and regional directors contributed $16,000 to offset rental charges after the school district announced it was raising fees to reflect the actual staffing costs.
While Kettle has argued that ongoing subsidization of the facility should not be taken on by taxpayers, Jackman took the opposite approach.
“The Prince Charles Theatre would succeed with a far lower level of subsidies than the community complex, I’m sure,” he said. “Theatres in Cranbrook and Nelson are very well used and they get hefty sums from local government.”
Jackman said that to subsidize some leisure facilities and not others isn’t fair.
“Users of the swimming pool, for instance, pay only about a third of the operating costs — the rest is subsidized by taxes,” he said. “If we made the theatre into a service I doubt it would cost much to ensure it’s affordable to community groups.”
Coun. Joanna Wilson, who represents town council on the Community Arts Council of Creston, said a survey conducted last fall indicated strong local support for the theatre.
“Ninety per cent of those surveyed said they would pay higher taxes to ensure access to arts and culture facilities,” she said.
Prince Charles Theatre was constructed in part with community donations in the 1980s after Prince Charles Secondary School burned down. The donations were used to build a larger theatre than the one planned for, and to provide theatre seating. Later, a fundraising campaign allowed a concert grand piano to be purchased. While an agreement was signed between the school district and town to set rental rates annually, there appears to have been no written commitment to provide funding.
The recent lack of communication among local government officials and school board members became apparent when trustee Art Field said the school district was in the process of leasing the Kinsmen Park field to the local soccer association.
“Why isn’t the Town of Creston taking this on to co-ordinate all of its recreation facilities?” he asked.
Kettle expressed surprise that the lease was being negotiated because the Alex Nilsson Field at the community complex has always been rented out to soccer groups.
“When we lose renters for RDCK facilities it means the cost for other programs has to go up,” he said.
Discussion about the Creston Education Centre, which houses a number of programs for pre-schoolers, Homelinks and some school district professionals, indicated that the possibility of closing the facility seems to have passed, at least in the near future.
Using the facility as a “neighbourhood learning centre” falls within the Ministry of Education’s mandate, Supt. Jeff Jones said.
“The Creston Education Centre is vital to this valley,” trustee Annette Hambler said. “The neighborhoods of learning approach that Jeff has worked on is really important to us.”
“The big concern is how the school district can work with the broader community to make the best use of the gym and fields,” Jones said.
The Town of Creston recently rejected a request by the school board to take over routine maintenance of the fields that surround Creston Education Centre.
Kettle reiterated a previous offer that the RDCK could purchase the building and grounds for a dollar and then lease portions back to the school district. His offer did not elicit any support from school board officials.
While no firm date was set to follow up last week’s meeting, there was agreement that regular communication is important. Kettle suggested that in September local school board trustees could begin quarterly meetings with the community services committee, which consists of the valley’s four regional directors.