When a trio of current and former mayors converged on the town square in Qualicum Beach on Wed., April 20, they had a simple message for students in the community.
“Have a hotdog on us and, by the way, we really appreciate you being here.”
The event, organized by Councillor Mary Brouilette, was held to make sure students were well aware that their importance to Qualicum Beach is recognized.
“This isn’t a rally against anything,” Brouilette said. “This is a celebration of the youth. We want our young people to know they are very welcome here and we treasure them.”
To do this, the municipality had Fire Chief Darryl Kohse manning a grill, cranking out hot dogs by the dozen for the hundreds of students who showed up as the Kwalikum Secondary School Jazz Band played in the background.
“They are the heart of this town and we want them to stay,” Brouilette continued. “We couldn’t think of a better way to say that than to offer them some free food and a little break on their lunch hour.”
That message was echoed by former mayor Bill Luchtmeijer.
“A whole community involves kids and the growing up process for kids,” he said. “Otherwise, we just end up as a little bedroom community for Parksville and Nanaimo, which isn’t an enviable position.”
Former mayor Orlan Rye agreed.
“The community is absolutely great and [Kwalikum Secondary School] is something we absolutely need to protect the future, not just for this year or next, but for years down the road.”
Teunis Westbroek, the current wearer of the town’s chain of office, said it’s important for the municipality to make sure local youth know they are not taken for granted.
“This is not about us, it’s about the kids and showing that we care, that we appreciate them, not just this generation, but in perpetuity,” he said. “They need to know that kids will always be able to have Kindergarten to Grade 12 education in Qualicum Beach.”
Westbroek stressed that KSS is not in fact facing declining enrolment, but rather, fluctuating enrolment — a very different situation.
“In the long term there will be an increase, so closing it would be very short-sighted,” he said. “It has gone up and down before.”
Westbroek likened the possibility of closing KSS less than a decade after a $9.1 million expansion to a business.
“If a consultant to a business told you to enlarge your store and then realized you don’t have the volume to go through that store and told you to close it, you would say no, I’m going to close your account instead,” he said. “You are no longer my consultant.”
Teacher Dave Olsen was one of those lined up for a free hotdog and he stressed that students have been an integral part of the community.
“Look at all the things students have been involved with,” he said. “They helped with the skateboard park, the BMX park, helped move the church to the train station and helped with the annex behind the museum. These kids have been involved in a lot of things over the years.