Telkwa Elementary (Chris Gareau photo)

School District 54 terminates heating agreement with the Village of Telkwa

The village of Telkwa and the school district are currently negotiating a new contract.

Bulkey Valley School District 54 (SD54) served the Village of Telkwa with a 30-day notice of the termination of their heating agreement in late November. Council discussed the news during the Dec. 11 council meeting.

Since this is a legal issue the notice was discussed during council’s in camera session. After consulting with their legal team they received permission to release this information to the public, but some specifics of the contract are still confidential.

Under the agreement, which has been referred to as a partnership by both Telkwa council and SD54, the school district purchased energy from the Village to heat Telkwa Elementary School.

“I’m just really disappointed that this is happening at this time of year without really council having any knowledge or opportunity to address the challenges that are causing them to want to pull out,” said Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen.

“We certainly recognize that they’re within their rights in terms of the agreement to do that but, again, that word partnership perhaps it has a different meaning for me. When you’re a partner you want to have that discussion if there’s a problem with the partnership and try to see if there’s a way to resolve those issues.”

Repen said neither he nor the Village’s chief administrative officer (CAO) Debbie Joujan were made aware of any issues the school district was having until late November.

The mayor said if the school district’s issues were so severe they felt they had no choice but to terminate the contract, someone from the district should have contacted either him or Joujan.

“We have a CAO for a reason, and we have a mayor for a reason, and for us to not be included in any communication prior to the school board withdrawing from the contract with 30 days notice is in my opinion inappropriate,” Repen said.

SD54 secretary treasurer Dave Margerm said the school district contacted the Village about their concerns before November but is unaware of any attempts to contact the mayor or the CAO directly. Margerm believes in this situation the school board shouldn’t have to call the mayor personally to alert him of ongoing issues.

“We’ve been in communication with the Village of Telkwa for some time,” Margerm said.

According to a letter written by Margerm, the main reason for the cancelation of the contract is the increased costs since the installation of Telkwa’s biomass system. Margerm also wrote “there have been irreconcilable inconsistencies with energy data concerning the usage of invoices, billing cycles and the physical plant configurations.”

The school district and the Village of Telkwa are currently discussing the possibility of a new contract. As a result Margerm said he’s not at liberty to discuss any specifics regarding the negotiations as well as the reasons for pulling out of the agreement.

“The school district has some issues with the way the contract is proceeding,” said Margerm. “It’s just a matter of working with the town to look at certain aspects of the contract around the heating and reevaluate whether we want to continue to proceed.”

Margerm hopes they can resolve their issues with Telkwa and move forward with a new contract but if not the district will rely on natural gas to heat Telkwa Elementary.

“We already have natural gas heating systems in our schools that are run very efficiently,” Margerm said.

“This partnership was organized in 2013 to allow us to use a biofuel system which would hopefully be at less cost.”

The mayor said he has not yet seen any data that explain would why the school district made their decision.

Calculations regarding how much the Village stands to lose in revenue if the school board does not sign a new contract have not yet been made Repen said.

“Hopefully we can have more information both coming to us as well as an agreement that we can put this information out to the public so they really understand what’s going on,” said Repen. “Ultimately I hope we can keep them on the system. I hope the system works and we continue to be in a partnership for many years forward.”

mike.grace-dacosta@interior-news.com

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