Qualicum Beach council wants input on school closures

The Town of Qualicum Beach vows to continue its lobbying efforts to keep its elementary school open.

Talk of the proposed closure of Qualicum Beach Elementary School dominated town council's meeting Monday night. A delegation of parents and council members spoke passionately about the school's downtown location and its place in the "heart" of the community.

Council passed a motion Monday instructing staff to request a meeting with the school board to discuss the proposed closure.

“We believe education is about teaching kids how to be part of the community,” parent Anna Sjoo told council, adding that the closure would “make the downtown a sad, depressing place to be.”

Anne Skipsey, who appeared before council along with Sjoo as a delegation, disputed some of the school district’s numbers related to QBES. She said there are more than 100 students at the school who come from different catchment areas and a waiting list for more.

“Our school is certainly thriving,” said Skipsey. “Why? It is a desireable school in a desireable location.”

Skipsey and Sjoo were asking council for three things related to the closure:

• a letter from council to the school board opposing the closure;

• a commitment from council to “stand true” to the town’s official community plan related to any  future development at the school site;

• possible funding from the town to keep the school open.

Skipsey said she was concerned what might happen to the site if it the school was closed. She said she has heard rumours developers are already expressing interest in the property.

“Are we going to let developers decide the future of our town?” she asked.

Councillors expressed sadness about the possible closure but did not commit past the motion to meet with the school board.

Coun. Dave Willie said he’s heard from people who want the town to put some kind of zoning freeze on the land to protect it from development.

“It’s not our decision,” said Willie. “There’s nothing we can do with that land. The odds are pretty stacked against us.”

Coun. Scott Tanner pointed to statistics provided on the school district’s website, disputed by Skipsey and Sjoo, that state QBES has capacity for 390 students and currently has only 254 pupils. He said he believes the numbers can be crafted to support many positions.

“Depending on what statistics you present, you can shape any argument,” said Tanner. “But if I had my choice, I would do anything I could to keep QBES open.”

Resident Jared Shaw took to the podium later during the public comments section of the meeting to take issue with a survey conducted by the school district he said was “very poorly executed.” Shaw, who said he has three young children in the district, also suggested the school district was playing the largest communities of the region against each other.

“This clearly pitted the larger community (Parksville) against the smaller one (Qualicum Beach),” said Shaw. “And it was a landslide win for Parksville. If this was a business deal, I would be very concerned.”

Of the four elementary schools in the discussion for closure, two are in Parksville, one in Qualicum Beach and one in Coombs.

On Tuesday night, the school board, struggling to deal with a multi-million-dollar deficit, voted to go with the recommendations of a facilities review that called for the closure of these four schools (see related story by Lissa Alexander in this edition of The NEWS, page A5). A 90-day public consultation period is now in place and the earliest the final decision on the closures could be made is April 29.

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