There are still a lot of details to be worked out, but there is optimism around Monday’s announcement that the former Qualicum Elementary School site will be turned into an “integrated family services centre.”
When the school was one of four closed in District 69 by a board vote in April, due to declining enrolment, there was a big outcry and effort to keep it open, focusing on a plan to convert it to a community school.
At an announcement in front of the school on Monday, district superintendent Rollie Koop recognized those efforts, saying that while the staff and board really liked the idea, “the fact that we would still have 6,000 spaces for 4,000 students was not answered in the community school proposal.”
He said during the facility review process the idea of a community hub did catch on and so a letter of intent to work together on the idea was signed Monday by representatives of the district, Town of Qualicum Beach and the Society of Organized Services (SOS). Still in the initial stages, the idea is to use the school building and grounds to combine everything from SOS and other community services, with possible business ventures and educational opportunities, keeping the option open to re-open a school in the future.
“I really believe that, this location… really does offer an opportunity to create a central location to keep that multigenerational interaction, I think that’s one of the things that’s most important to us,” said school board chair Lynette Kershaw.
“The SOS model is built on the community circle of caring,” said SOS president Cory McIntosh, explaining the cycle of people donating time and goods to help their neighbours. “Now we’re proud to work with the community to enlarge this circle of caring in Qualicum Beach.”
He pointed to the SOS’s long history of leadership in providing programs and working with other groups and that this is an opportunity to reach further into the community.
“SOS currently has over 300 members and volunteers from Qualicum Beach and over 30 per cent of our clients live here as well,” he said adding they hope this will give them better access.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek admitted he was disappointed with the closure decision, but said he is excited about the possibilities of the new partnership.
“We were particularly optimistic about the statement by Rollie that this will not be closed and there may be a future opportunity to put it back to service as a school,” he said, adding that it was good to hear Storybook Village and Munchkinland would remain in place.
The district’s Collaborative Education Alternate Program (CEAP) Elementary Distributed Learning Centre will also remain on site.
Bill Preston, a former school trustee and member of the Qualicum Beach Community School Steering Committee, which is still active, said the announcement keeps the option open.
Stressing that he doesn’t speak for the committee, said he “still completely disagree(s) with the process to close the school and think it was very flawed,” but now that the decision has been made “we need to figure out how to move forward.”
He said while the committee is still meeting and pursing options, “I hope we can work with the SOS and engage the community, and I don’t see why we can’t still do the majority of what’s in the business plan,” referring to the 23 page community school plan the group produced.
He said that since community schools are run by the community rather than the district, they would have a good chance of working with whatever the community hub ends up looking like on the property.
Formal representatives of the committee could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile Kershaw encourages any interested community groups and businesses to contact any of the partner groups to get in on the conversation.