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Emotions run high in Coombs over school closures

Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, left, and former school board trustee Bill Preston chat during the meeting at French Creek Community School on Saturday. - CANDACE WU PHOTO
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, left, and former school board trustee Bill Preston chat during the meeting at French Creek Community School on Saturday.
— image credit: CANDACE WU PHOTO

Superintendant of Schools Rollie Koop said trustees are facing "the most challenging decision you can ever make as somebody elected to represent a community."

A midday public meeting was held Saturday at French Creek Community School where residents voiced their concerns about School District 69 senior administration's recommendation to close down the only school in Coombs.

Parksville Elementary, Qualicum Beach Elementary and Winchelsea Elementary are also facing potential closures.

Emotions ran high at the meeting which saw Koop, School District Secretary Treasurer Erica Bailey, Alberni-Qualicum MLA Scott Fraser and school board trustees listen to questions and concerns from various individuals, including parents, grandparents, young students and employees of FCCS.

If FCCS is closed, existing students are slated to relocate to either Errington Elementary or the Qualicum Beach Middle School site, according to a facility report presented at the regular board meeting Jan. 28.

The school board is currently in the midst of a 90-day public consultation period, meaning the earliest a motion can pass acting on the recommendations is April 29.

The closure of the four schools would save $1,230,000 annually with other annual saving achieved in regards to maintenance. It would also address the 2,000 free spaces in schools as utilization would increase by 19 per cent in the district. The cost to bring facilities up to speed, including the addition of playgrounds for young children, daycares and other adjustments would be a one-time cost of around $650,000.

Over the next five years, the district deficit is predicted to grow to $3.6 million. But residents gave a passionate plea to save FCCS.

Fraser said closing FCCS is “a different type of school closure” in comparison to the other three schools on the chopping block.

“Closing FCCS will take children out of this community that we all love,” said Fraser, adding that he blames the Liberal government for putting residents of Coombs in this situation in the first place.  Fraser vowed to vote against the government’s proposed budget this week.

“I will do everything I can to stop the decision to close this school on your behalf,” said Fraser, who also promised to speak with the Minister of Education regarding the closure.

Coombs resident Sarah Roth said closing FCCS will “crush this community.”

“I understand this all comes down to dollars and cents and I get that is the bottom line for you,” said Roth, addressing the board. “But for this community the bottom line is our homes — this is our family and I’m sorry but by taking away this you take away our children.” Roth burst into tears on the spot, drawing emotion and a roaring applause from the crowd.

“If you take the people who are here and you disperse our children there is no reason to have a community here,” said Roth. “If you want to continue to maintain the thriving community that we have we need to figure out how to help you keep this school open.”

According to Roth, the small-scale nature of the 111-student community school is why she moved back to Coombs.

Roth said it will be “extremely detrimental” for current FCCS students to reintegrate into a larger school in a different community while being split up from many of their friends.

“They will lose a sense of identity and fall through the cracks,” said Roth, adding that if Parksville Elementary, Qualicum Beach Elementary and/or Winchelsea Elementary were to close, at least the students would stay within their community.

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