EDITORIAL: What to do with closed schools

They are public assets and could be valuable sources of revenue for the school district

Part of the reasoning in the selection process for the closure of schools in 2014 was how much work each needed, how much money each property was going to suck out of the budget in the coming years.

In fact, the closure of elementary schools in Qualicum Beach, Coombs and Parksville saved the district $1.58 million in the first year. Suffice to say these were not state-of-the-art facilities.

Declining enrolment was the chief reason for the closures. As painful as it was for these communities — especially Coombs — the district had to make difficult, unpopular decisions.

Fast forward two years and it may be time to take a look at these properties in a different light.

They are public assets. They may be on the books of the local school district or the provincial government’s education ministry, but those are semantics for the bureaucrats. They are taxpayer-owned facilities, period.

The school district, the town and the Society of Organized Services, have done their level best to avoid creating a void in downtown Qualicum Beach with the occupancy of what’s now called Qualiucm Commons. But, as school district Superintendent Rollie Koop explained to a chamber of commerce crowd last week, this building needs a lot of work, expensive stuff like the roof and seismic upgrades.

Its future is in question and, in typical Qualicum Beach fashion, we are all asked to wait to see what comes out of the next review of the town’s Official Community Plan. We are not holding our breath for something fun, innovative or free-enterprise based to come out of that process.

That stated, the former Qualicum Beach Elementary School is a palace and hub of activity compared to the other schools closed two years ago.

Parksville Elementary School is getting some use with one tenant, but it still looks like a tired, waste of space. French Creek Elementary in Coombs is in such a potentially-great spot, there has to be some use that will serve the community.

We’ve heard many suggestions, especially for Parksville Elementary, including more than a few calls to make it into a shelter/affordable housing/low-income services facility. But should we really house people in potentially unsafe buildings, just because they have nothing else? We think not. How about this: put the Parksville land up for sale and use the money to make improvements to the buildings in Qualicum Beach and Coombs.

— Editorial by John Harding

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