KAMLOOPS - It may be too little too late but a group of concerned citizens are not giving up their fight to save their downtown school.
Denis Walsh, the chair of the Downtown and West End Residents Association, admits they were a bit slow out of the gate but based on previous changes within the school district they also thought they would have more time before the board would make a decision about Stuart Wood Elementary School.
The residents association first met at the end of April, with the possible closure of the elementary school as a pushing point but wanted to first establish what other issues it deemed important in the neighbourhood before taking an official stance on the school.
The group joined forces with the Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association to ask the city and the school district to keep an elementary school in the downtown core and several delegates appeared before city council last week asking for support in dealing with the school district.
“We all sent separate letters and then decided to join forces on this because we share the same opinion,” Walsh says. “Everyone has a little different twist to their idea (of what should be done with the school)… we finally got both neighbourhood groups together to get a consensus.”
The school board is expected to make a decision in the next couple weeks over whether to renovate Stuart Wood Elementary School or to move all the students and staff to the Beattie School of the Arts McGill campus after the Beattie students are consolidated into one building on 9 Avenue.
“We understand their position. They have a fiscal responsibility and the easiest choice for them is to close Stuart Wood and move schools,” he says of the fiscal situation the school is in with one school set to be left empty by fall 2016. “But we don’t agree it’s strictly an education issue. It’s a matter of urban planning as well.”
Walsh says some aspects of the possible plan make sense, but it concerns downtown citizens who want to keep the core area vibrant.
“Some aspects do make sense. We don’t deny that it’s not a totally crazy idea,” he says. “But from a downtown viewpoint, from an urban planning viewpoint, it doesn’t make sense to us. It’s not the only choice, but we can see why it’s their prime choice.”
TRYING TO BE HEARD
Two representatives went to the board meeting at the end of May but were not given an opportunity to speak and this week they went before city council hoping to get support. It was a tough decision that left council split but in the end all they got was a letter of support for meeting with the school district, not a specific stance about the Stuart Wood issue, which is what they were hoping for.
Later that day Walsh sent off an email to the school district hoping to speak with the board at the next meeting, Monday, June 23, but was told the public input session was already over and they would not be able to fit them into the agenda.
The community groups hosted a table at the farmer’s market Saturday hoping to drum up more support and awareness over the possible closure, and in the hopes of having more people show up to the school board meeting Monday evening.
Walsh says momentum is building as more people actually hear of the possible closure and he hopes the board will back off and not push to have a decision by summer break.
“The downtown is unique and we need to protect it,” he says. “(If the school closes) families will lack that right of choice and it may affect the decision of families moving into the downtown core.
The school board released an enrolment report last year that looked at reconfiguration and how to best deal with enrolment growth and declines in the district. The possible closure of Stuart Wood School garnered a lot of negative attention from residents and in March 60-70 people showed up to a public information session express concern to the proposal.
Even more sent in letters to the school board upset with the idea and in May a report was presented to the board outlining the key issues and concerns from the public and from an administrative point of view. The report named the closure of Stuart Wood Elementary School as the best plan of action.
The school district leases the heritage building from the city and is responsible for maintenance and upkeep. If a decision is made to close the school down the keys would be handed back over to the city sometime in 2016.
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