KAMLOOPS - More than an hour was spent discussing the merits of keeping Stuart Wood as an elementary school and whether the city should step in to provide ‘support’ to the school district in making the decision.
“Where was this passion for John Tod last term?” Mayor Peter Milobar said, “Was it because it was North Shore and now it’s downtown so we’ll go to bat for it?”
It was a dig at councillors fighting to show they were listening to the neighbourhood groups at the meeting and trying to pass it off as part of the urban planning protocol.
Members of the Downtown and West End Residents Association and the Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association were in front of council to ask for help fighting to keep the school downtown.
“We’re committed to having a community school in our downtown area, we strongly believe it is necessary to a vibrant neighbourhood,” Denis Walsh said. “It’s not just an education issue.”
While Milobar agreed he would love to see Stuart Wood remain a school he did not like the way other council members tried to make it an urban planning issue when qualified city staff have already sat down with the school district to talk about the urban planning aspect.
One option on the table is to send a letter saying the city will support the district in keeping Stuart Wood school, though Milobar isn't keen on sending a letter, just to send a letter. He said it might send the message to go forward and that the details don't matter.
“It is a very complex problem and there’s a lot more going on. I’m not the education expert. We’re essentially cherry picking when we want to help them solve a problem.”
To further his point Milobar also asked staff how many of them were urban planners and if they met with the district to answer any questions yet.
“I don’t have a planning degree and we have to be very careful when we talk about basing it on planning principals. We’re putting our gut feeling into the equation and now saying that is a planning principal.” he said. “It’s a window dressing. It feels like ‘we have people at the podium so we’ll send a letter so it looks like we’re doing something.’”
CAO David Trawin said while having a school in a neighbourhood is ideal, it is not necessary for growth. He pointed to Batchelor Heights and Pineview, the two fastest growing areas of the city, both of which do not have a school. While he admitted surburban areas are somewhat different, they also tend to have more school-aged children.
“We’ve had all those conversations,” Trawin said of meeting with the school board. “We asked ‘is this because of code, or an enrolment issue?’ We were told if they were meeting enrolment they would be putting money into the building. It’s more than just money at play.”
With councillors Marg Spina and Pat Wallace absent council was evenly split over a motion to send a letter letting the district know the city would like to see Stuart Wood continue as a school and will do what they can to help the district do so and a motion to send a letter to the district about working together on proposals was also defeated.
In the end council did agree to send a letter to the district asking they meet with the neighbourhood associations, something that has not yet been done formally at a board meeting.
“It’s not that we aren’t sympathetic or we wouldn’t be thrilled if they decide to keep the school a school,” Milobar said. “We can’t mandate they keep the school.”
The district has been looking at realigning schools to deal with declining and surging enrolments at different schools. One option before the board is to move all Beattie School of the Arts students into the downtown campus and move Stuart Wood students to the then empty McGill campus. The aging building would then be turned back over to the city.
School district superintendent Terry Sullivan says he expects the board will make a decision before the summer break. They have two meetings left before summer break, June 23 and July 7.
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