This is the Life: School closures continue with no hope on the horizon

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Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.

School districts around the province are in full-tilt financial panic these days, with the tipping point of maintaining current facilities apparently reaching crisis mode. Few pass in which we don’t hear or read some reference to closures of schools and the resulting impact on communities. And yet the same old arguments are made—school districts refer to “continuing cuts” and the province claims more money than ever is being spent on education. The truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in between.

Here, in the broader Creston area, we face the loss of Yahk Elementary School this fall and the closure of the Creston Education Centre (formerly South Creston Elementary School) next year. The former is a sad loss for the community of Yahk, but it’s pretty hard to argue to keep a school open when there are no projected students for next September. Shutting down CEC, though, will have a much greater impact on the community, unless the Town of Creston and RDCK step up to take over the property and keep the many existing services in the present location.

It seems like not so long ago that the Yahk school dodged the closure bullet. An orchestrated flurry of enrollments, primarily by families connected to the Bountiful community, gave the school a few more years, but the end now seems inevitable. While Kootenay Lake School District’s Jeff Jones refers to it as a “temporary closure”, make no mistake—that little school is done for.

The school district has been looking for ways to dump CEC from its facilities roster for years—make no mistake about that either. It was close to happening several years ago, until some bizarre financial claims were pointed out by community members and the district had to back off. The issues have not changed—parents with students enrolled in Homelinks and Wildflower programs have made it clear that they do not want the programs offered in a regular school, and it’s going to be a huge challenge to keep the building available for the many undeniably crucial programs for pre-schoolers and their families.

Expect the PCSS bubble to disappear in the next while, too. Put in place as a temporary solution when the old building burned to the ground in 1979 (if memory serves), the bubble is seen as an unnecessary cost by the school district, especially because the PCSS gym offers more space per student than the high school in Nelson. And we simply can’t have more or better facilities in Creston, can we?

When CEC’s closure appeared imminent several years ago, then-RDCK Area B director John Kettle promised that the community would find a way to purchase the building and keep the services in it. That would make the school district happy, because it would keep the option open to lease back space for the Homelinks and Wildflower programs, IF parents persist with threats to register their kids in non-Kootenay Lake district programs, which would reduce its funding.

Interestingly, the Prince Charles Auditorium doesn’t seem to pop up in the lengthy (and quite detailed) facilities review document. I don’t think there is any question that it is viewed in the Nelson board offices as an affront because it is of greater value to the community than it is to the school. Another result of the PCSS fire, the auditorium was built through some very creative thinking and leadership, and might still be alive only because it is part of the school’s physical structure. As a stand alone building it would have been on the chopping block long ago.

There are no easy solutions for school districts in this province. And, I am coming more and more to believe, there is less and less need for the districts themselves. Gone are the days when school boards had sufficient funds that allowed them flexibility in how educational services are delivered. Today, a regional system like health authorities might make more sense. And I never thought I would see the day when I’d say that.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.