Since closing down the former Qualicum Beach Elementary School in 2014, School District 69 and the Town of Qualicum Beach have turned the facility into a “vibrant” success story.
But looming infrastructure upgrades and the Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP) leave the facility’s long-term future in question, the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce learned during its meeting in the newly-named Qualicum Commons on Wednesday evening.
Beginning with the signing of a licensing agreement with the Society of Organized Services (SOS) to be the anchor tenant, the school district has brought in private businesses, government agencies and social services providers, as well as its own Distributed Learning Program, to fill the former school classrooms and offices.
“We knew really clearly, given the strategic location of this building in downtown core Qualicum Beach, that it was going to be really crucial not to have this site become a boarded-up building and one that became a deteriorating asset,” SD69 superintendent Rollie Koop told chamber members following a wine-and-hors d’oeuvres reception in the commons’ meeting room.
“From that standpoint, it’s been a success.”
Koop added the rent brought in by the commons now pays for its operation, with a little put aside for deferred maintenance. But the building will eventually need some expensive capital work, he said.
That work will include replacement of the building’s air-exchange system, new roofing and seismic upgrades — those expenses will all be factored into the year-long OCP process the town will embark on next month.
“We need this OCP and long-term vision to … make sure the school board, potentially with other partners, are equipping themselves for the investment required to maintain a building, if this building is maintained,” said Daniel Sailland, Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Qualicum Beach. “There are many ‘ifs’. The OCP process is the opportunity to explore those ifs, and it can get prickly.”
During a question-and-answer, one chamber member noted the closure of Qualicum Beach Elementary resulted in part from the school’s need for major upgrades, and asked if those repairs would be subsidized by the district now that it has tenants in the building.
“We know we have a ticking meter, on the air-handling units for sure, and the roof,” Koop said. “These (expenses) don’t go away, but we’re also looking at an asset management plan to look at what we might do.”
That plan, he said, will take into account two other buildings closed by the Board of Trustees in 2014 — the former French Creek Elementary and Parksville Elementary buildings, which do not enjoy the tenancy rate of Qualicum Commons.
“We may have to be in conversation with other organizations about the viability of this place and maintaining it so that it can continue to function in the short and medium term,” Koop said.
“What we don’t want is a boarded-up building which many jurisdictions see.”
Koop noted all of the school district’s licensing agreements in the commons are set up on a short-term basis. Sailland said that is the proper course of action until the OCP process and a dialogue with the community establishes and vision and/or strategy for the commons.
“This process will create space for that dialogue so we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars,” Sailland said.
“They are your dollars at work, and if Rollie has to invest $100,000 in this building and then finds out three years later we’re shutting it down, people will be scratching their heads.”