Bulkley Valley School District 54 (SD54) held a public consultation session last Thursday to discuss how to use a shared community space that will be a part of the new Walnut Park Elementary school.
As part of the Province’s commitment to building the new school, it will provide $1.5 million in funding for 486 square metres of a shared community space.
Walnut’s current gym is 380 square metres. Smithers Secondary School’s gym is close to 600 square metres.
At the meeting SD54 showed examples of how other schools used their communal space.
A school from the town of Gibsons used their space to build a daycare for toddlers. Another example shown was from a school in Chilliwack that used their space to make a gym and make an extra room for the drama club.
At the meeting multiple people asked if the space could be used for an indoor turf facility where users could play soccer, flag football, or rugby.
SD54 superintendent Chris van der Mark said the board would be open to the idea but in order to build anything past the 486 square metres the Ministry of Education is funding, the school district will need to partner with a local government, business or receive donations.
“If there’s no partnership available we’re dealing with 486 square metres and that’s probably not going to get us there,” van der Mark said in the meeting.
SD54 would be looking for capital funding if it decides to build a facility bigger than the allotted 486 squares metres like an indoor turf centre or a recreational centre. The school district would charge users of the facility to cover operational costs but if a partner would like to fund operations they would be open to that as well, SD54 secretary treasurer Dave Margerm said.
Town of Smithers councillor Greg Brown also spoke at the meeting.
Brown said the Town has decided to continue with its plan to put a new library in an arts and culture centre on Main Street and not incorporate it into the shared community space at the new Walnut Park school. Brown said the Town worked long and hard on choosing a location for the library and decided on Main Street because of the benefits it will have on the entire downtown core.
The library draws a large number of people to Main Street everyday, which is something that is attractive to potential developers.
“I personally believe as a councillor our downtown is a strong asset and we need to continue to invest in our downtown. We should not do things that erode the makeup of downtown but rather we need to enhance it,” Brown said. “While it is attractive to partner with the school district I feel it’s the wrong location for a civic space like a library.”
No formal conversation at council has taken place regarding a partnership with the school district to build anything other than a library, Brown said.
The school district will host a another consultation meeting at the end of the month. Over the summer architects will start the design process for the new school.
By September or early October design concepts of what the school will look like with the shared space will be completed. If the concepts are approved construction will begin in April, Margerm said.
The Province is really strict regarding the timeline of projects like this so the school district is unable to deviate from the scheduled timeline, Margerm said in the meeting.
“I think the timeline is really short for partnering with the school district,” Brown said. “I would say let’s do it but I’m also acutely aware of staff resources and all the other projects going on.”
Anyone wishing to engage with the consultation process but is unable to attend the next meeting is encouraged to write a letter to or call Margerm.
“I think it’s important to hear from the public about what their visions or their needs are for a community,” Margerm said. “We might find out people have a need we didn’t know about. That’s why we do these things. “
The new school is scheduled to open for the 2020-21 school year.