Mayor Chris Burger says he believes school closures are coming to Parksville Qualicum Beach soon and he is trying to start the conversation about how these facilities may be utilized by the community.
The local school district has been hosting public meetings and developing reports on what it is going to do to address its multi-million-dollar budget shortfall. The school board is expected to act on the feedback and the reports at its meeting Jan. 28, but Burger said last week he believes closures are “a fait accompli.”
“I think it is, certainly to the extent we have 4,000 students and 6,000 capacity, we’re going to see some facility closures — I think that is a fait accompli,” said Burger. “They (facility closures) are going to have to ultimately occur.”
Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell wasn’t prepared to say school closures are inevitable.
“I would say it’s not something I have heard from the (School District 69) administration or from school trustees that they are at that point now, but tough decisions have to be made,” said Stilwell. “There are lots of (ideas) that are floating around. The more ideas we get out and get the conversation started its going to help us find solutions (to the budget woes of the school district).”
One of those ideas, according to Burger, is to use any closed school district facilities for health-care-related issues.
“It’s early, I haven’t done a lot of research yet, but I could see an opportunity to get some additional medical-related services or facilities here, perhaps something with medium or short-term stay,” said Burger. “I’ve had a lot of first-hand experience over the past month with my father being at NRGH. One of the things I’ve observed at NRGH is I meet a lot of Parksville Qualicum folk who are in various states of transition coming out of the hospital and it sure would be nice to have a little more capacity locally to be able to house these people. I haven’t had a chance to look at numbers or anything, I’m just talking anecdotally.”
Burger said the school district can’t, and hasn’t, make these decisions in a vacuum.
“The school board has to do what the school board must do but it is a partnership and there’s a lot at stake and they (the school board) realize that,” said Burger. “They are coming to us and they are asking for ideas.”
• Burger and Coun. Al Greir hosted the monthly Coffee with Council session Thursday at city hall, a chance for the public to meet informally with the mayor and councillors to talk about city issues. Thursday’s session was a little different, however, because MLA Stilwell was in attendance.
“She’s the only city key holder, so I couldn’t keep her out even if I wanted to,” Burger said with a laugh, referring to the honour bestowed Stilwell in 2012 after she once again captured Paralympic gold.
“She is one of the stars of government and that’s a good thing for us,” said Burger.