Penticton arts school evicted after School District refuses cheaper lease - InfoNews

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Penticton arts school evicted after School District refuses cheaper lease

June 03, 2020 - 4:04 PM

The Okanagan School of the Arts has until the end of the month to vacate the historic Shatford Centre building after the Okanagan Skaha School District refused to cut a deal with the not-for-profit organization on its lease renewal.

School of the Arts board president Keith MacIntyre told iNFOnews.ca as its lease was about to expire, they approached the school district, which owns the building, and tried to negotiate a vastly reduced rate while the art school navigated the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the School District refused the art school's proposal and would not renew or extend the lease and ordered them to vacate the property by June 30.

"We weren't expecting a sudden eviction order... especially in the current climate," Okanagan School of the Arts executive director Kim Palmer said.

Prior to the pandemic, the downtown Penticton not-for-profit art school held a variety to courses for the public, put on events and rented out facility space. Now in its 60th year, it had to shut down all its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the majority of its revenue streams.

The School of the Arts has let the Shatford Centre building for $1 a year from the School District for the last 10 years. The art school pays the utilities bills and maintenance which MacIntyre estimates costs $6,000 to $7,000 a month. Over the last decade, the organization has put around $2 million into the 99-year-old building.

MacIntyre wouldn't give a precise figure of what was proposed but said it would see the School District cover the bills and some wages.

"We felt it was a pretty fair number," he said. "We thought (it) would be probably less than it would cost SD67 to take over the building themselves because there is a lot to deal with in that building.... They're going to have to pay (the bills) anyway."

MacIntyre said the proposal put forward for the reduced costs would only have been temporary until classes and programs could restart and they could present a viable business plan and look at signing another five-year lease.

Okanagan Skaha School District 67 board chair James Palanio said the School District couldn't afford to fund the building.

"We simply have not got the funds," Palanio said. "We have to do what is the least expensive... our priority is the kids in our district."

Palanio said that the district had declining enrollment and was down 300 students in two years. While it will cost money to keep the building empty it will cost less money than the proposed lease, he said.

MacIntyre said the School District's decision was a real disappointment and he was upset at having to shut the building down and seeing all the work the organization did go "out the window."

"With a moratorium on commercial and residential evictions in B.C. because of the pandemic, we did not expect this from SD67," MacIntyre said.

A media release sent out by Okanagan School of the Arts said the organization now has the task of emptying the building which contains valuable and specialized equipment, pianos, commercial kitchen appliances, and a wide variety of art supplies.

Palmer said she didn't know where the equipment would be stored or what the future held for the art school.

The future of the historic building also looks uncertain.

"We're not going to be looking for another tenant," Palanio said. "Right now we need to focus on our students... the doors will be locked... it sounds blunt.. but it's our priority."

This story was updated 4:05 p.m. Wednesday June 3, 2020, to include comments from James Palanio.


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