PENTICTON - The Okanagan Skaha school board is looking for ideas from Penticton city council on what to do with school property if the schools are closed.
Three Penticton schools are being looked at for closure: Carmi Elementary School, McNicoll Park Middle School and Parkway Elementary School. McNicoll Park and Parkway both have city owned sports fields adjacent to the school properties, while Carmi's sports fields are already used by the city for various sports.
Penticton director of operations Mitch Moroziuk says all school property in the city is currently zoned public assembly, which allows a host of different uses including playing fields. The city and the school board currently have a joint-use agreement with School District 67 regarding the operation of the playing fields adjacent the schools in question. Moroziuk says, due to Carmi’s close proximity to Penticton Regional Hospital, there may be future uses on that site by the Interior Health Authority.
Mayor Andrew Jakubeit says it is difficult for council to make comments on the matter when there are potentially three completely different scenarios for school closures in the city. He says council comments might be more prudent after the school board narrowed down their closure choices.
Coun. Judy Sentes is concerned the proposed school closures are premature, pointing to the construction of the correctional centre in Oliver and the expansion at Penticton Regional Hospital. She says the projects could result in a reversal of the declining school enrolment numbers currently forecast by the school district.
“Once you sell a school, it’s gone, and if the population goes up, as we are hoping it will, one of the things we can boast is our school system and I don’t want to see it depleted,” she says.
Coun. Helena Konanz says he is frustrated by recent city efforts to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of traffic calming measures in front of two of the schools facing possible closure.
“I don’t know where the communication broke down, but someone should have known we’d be sitting here one or two years later, talking about what we’re going to do about empty schools,” she says.
Konanz would rather see the school board make their own closure decisions rather than be potentially influenced by council’s thoughts.
Coun. Campbell Watt agreed saying the city was too big a stakeholder and should maintain arm’s length in the matter.
“We’re not saying ‘do this, do that’ but certainly the recreational uses are important so if you are doing anything with it we’d want you to be mindful of the investment we put into that and the benefit they bring to the community,” mayor Jakubeit says, adding most of council’s comments were generic and any further comments should wait until a decision is made by the school board.
City staff will submit comments about possible uses for school property to the school district in time for a public meeting on the closures Monday, Feb. 22 at the Shatford Centre, beginning at 7 p.m.
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