Public use lands offer significant benefits to the community beyond their educational and social opportunities.
Full disclosure, my wife and I do not have children, so I am not vested in the closure debate. I must also admit that I provide consulting services for private developments. The demographic changes to our area have led to the need to close schools. It is what it is. What should we do with these ‘prime development’ sites once they are closed? These school sites are public lands that you and I have all paid for.
In my opinion, the preservation of public land use designations is a key component of a complete community. We may not need our land right now for schools, but we may in the future. The cost of assembling land after the ‘baby-boom’ bubble to accommodate large new school sites will inevitably come at a higher cost than simply retaining them for public use in the interim.
Shortfalls in school district funding from higher levels of government and budget deficits are an administrative issue that should not be borne by our communities. Nor should our local government rezone these lands in order to mitigate such financial woes.
There is some talk about how these lands are prime for redevelopment. Of course they are. Schools are planned and located within existing growth centres. Imagine the outcry if we suggested rezoning Rathtrevor because the economics didn’t work for it to be a park.
When we look at long-range planning for our municipal clients, schools are often considered as, and tied into, a larger community open space network of environmentally protected areas, trails, and active recreation sites. These civic open space networks are the lifeblood of a community. Once these lands are rezoned to private use, they are forever lost as a community asset.
Given the lack of indoor recreation space in our area, the loss of the school buildings will be a hard hit to what little amenities we had for prospective citizens. If we lose these sites, we lose a future opportunity, we lose our commons, and we prove that we have given up on the oft-touted vacuous political slogan “we need to bring in young families.”