Investigating possible reconfiguration Houston schools is at the top of the school district’s priority list, but keeping an eye on Telkwa student migration to Smithers schools that are starting to fill up was also recommended.
Muheim Memorial Elementary School is full due in part to the popular French Immersion program, and moving former Lake Kathlyn Elementary School students to Walnut Park has that school at 84 per cent capacity. Telkwa is at 55 per cent capacity.
An estimated $28-million replacement for Walnut school with more room for students — 440 instead of the current maximum of 390-400 kids — is still in the works with the Ministry of Education. Lake Kathlyn has yet to be sold or re-purposed.
About 75 Telkwa-area kids are attending Smithers schools, according to Bulkley Valley School District 54 (SD54) secretary treasurer Dave Margerm.
That information was released as part of SD 54’s annual facilities review at Nov. 21’s school board meeting in Smithers.
“Right now the board is pretty accepting of having kids pick their school of choice. If for whatever reason enrolment were to continue to increase to a level that these two (Muheim and Walnut) couldn’t handle anymore, then we would have to look at policy around Telkwa,” Margerm told trustees and those in the gallery during the report presentation.
Houston schooling future
The news of exploring a campus concept in Houston and possibly closing Silverthorne Elementary was to be presented at Houston Secondary School (HSS) Nov. 28.
Enrolment in Houston has been declining for decades with the schools not getting any younger.
Enrolment at Houston schools in 1988-89 was 995. Outside of a bump back to 860-929 in the late ’90s, it has been steadily declining since then. There were 509 kids registered in Houston this school year.
Silverthorne and Telkwa are the oldest schools in the district, both being built in 1954. Telkwa was last renovated in 1986, while Silverthorne was last renovated in 1970 — the longest any facility owned by SD54 has gone without a major upgrade.
With Twain Sullivan last being renovated in 2016, and HSS being needed for its size and specialized facilities along with being upgraded just this year past summer, Silverthorne would be the school to close if a reconfiguration called for a school closure.
Silverthorne also has some major structural challenges that could cost $2.2 million over the next few years, including the boiler system and roof. In fact, it had a watermain break the morning of the school board meeting that will likely cost about $23,000, according to Margerm.
Those costs are usually covered by the provincial government, but Margerm started to list the positives a Silverthorne closure would bring.
“One elementary school, probably $300,000 [would be saved],” said Margerm, adding that savings could actually be higher and up to $400,000.
That would come from amalgamating staff, mostly on the administrative side. Teacher positions would not be expected to be lost, and education assistant positions may even go up with the savings.
The report showed only one teacher position being lost from a school closure, saving an estimated $75,000 plus $21,000 in benefits. Administration, clerical and custodial positions would account for most of the rest of the savings. Transportation would be the only increased cost, estimated to go up $10,617.
There were three options given: keep all three Houston school, close a school and have one elementary and one high school, or proceed with re-configuring schools into a combined elementary and high school system with investment in annex space.
The third option was what staff recommended the school board approve.
The district would apply to the Ministry for funding of a two to four-classroom annex built between Twain Sullivan and HSS. The report listed benefits would include fewer classrooms needed at Twain, and the ability to offer a year of mid-school or pod system for Grade 6 without having to be in HSS.
The report recommends applying for the 2018-19 Rural Education Enhancement Fund. It reads that the Ministry is interested in receiving a proposal for the modular annex.
High school gym use limits
Another issue that came up in the presentation was public use of school, including the newly re-floored Smithers Secondary School gym. A new policy on limiting use is out for public consultation right now.
Users, especially soccer and rugby teams, have been frustrated at not being able to use the high school. The smaller elementary school gyms are available as they do not have a hardwood floor like the high school.
Superintendent Chris van der Mark said a change in culture is needed to protect the over $60,000 investment on the floor ($50,000 was also spent on new bleachers). He added the gym is full from September to March.
“Just trying to maintain these things given the culture of it’s there, we can use it how we want, is tough. That’s also the push for let’s have some year-round turf. I think there’s nothing we can use more in the community quite frankly, for most kids, than something year-round that doesn’t involve skating or skiing if those aren’t your things,” van der Mark said in response to a question from the gallery.
Adult soccer players are now using Ebenezer Canadian Reformed School in Smithers.
The use agreement with the Town of Smithers to share facilities has also not been renewed.