2016’s Top Stories #1: SD8 votes to close four schools

Long-term facilities plan was the source of plentiful controversy this year.

SD8 voted to close Trafalgar Middle School this year.

Goodbye Trafalgar.

During the ambitious, multi-year facilities planning process the Kootenay Lake school board worked its way through this year, trustees and staff invited concerned parents to engage in the process. And that’s exactly what they did, sometimes with overwhelming results.

First the board put forward six schools for potential closure: Trafalgar, Salmo Elementary, Winlaw, Jewett, Creston Education Centre and Yahk. But right away they were met with vehement opposition in the Slocan Valley and elsewhere, faced with gymnasiums packed full of sign-waving education advocates.

One of the residents who spoke during a meeting in May was Winlaw Elementary Grade 5 student Daniel Sullivan, who compared the potential closure of his school to destroying a spiderweb.

“The spiderweb has many threads that support it, and by closing the school you break one of those threads and affect all the other ones,” Sullivan said, to applause from the nearly 400 people packed into the W.E Graham gymnasium in Slocan.

“I really love Winlaw Elementary and I’ve enjoyed my experiences there. Please don’t close it.”

Minister Mike Bernier toured the district during the process, swinging by Trafalgar Middle School, but his staff failed to inform him beforehand that it was being considered for closure.

“Is that my knees creaking or is that the floors?” he joked.

While in town he told reporters the school closures were necessary, but he didn’t want to make any decisions without seeing what was happening on the ground.

“Every district in the province, and there’s 60 of them, is different with unique challenges and stories to tell,” Bernier said, noting he grew up in rural BC and understands rural education intimately. “I’m not making decisions in Victoria without understanding what’s going on in the province.”

Ultimately Winlaw was rescued, along with Jewett, by a last-minute rural school funding announcement that took them off the chopping block. But the plan also evolved in idiosyncratic ways, most notably with Wildflower proposing an amendment to the plan that was ultimately approved.

“The parents at Wildflower and South Nelson recognize the board has these needs to address,” parent Jay Blackmore told the Star. “What we’re proposing is rather than dictating a certain number of South Nelson and Rosemont kids coming to Central to create a separate elementary stream, we’ll expand Wildflower classes and offer up room to both.”

Other parts of the plan, such as closing Trafalgar, were painful but considered a crucial part of addressing the district’s capacity issues and deferred maintenance costs.

“I wince every time I think about closing Trafalgar,” trustee Bill Maslechko told those present. “It’s agony but I still think it’s the right thing to do.”

And the board is tentatively optimistic about how things turned out during their final vote in July. Once the board voted to close the four schools they went on to debate minor amendments before voting on the entirety of the plan. It passed without any opposition.

When all the voting was done, board chair Lenora Trenaman addressed those remaining in the bleachers.

“This has been a very fulfilling process, but it’s also been very taxing,” said Trenaman. “Thank you for all your support.”

But some are unhappy with the result, and many lay the blame at the feet of Premier Christy Clark. One particular Slocan Valley resident, Dr. Marcia Braundy, has repeatedly made reference to the Prosperity Fund the Liberal government is apparently sitting on.

“Prosperity is when you educate the young people of this province,” she said.

“I picture it like this: SD8 cowering with hat in hand, reaching out to ask the government ‘please sir, can we have some more?’”

 

Just Posted

Kootenay Lake ferry labour dispute ends with ratified agreement

The deal was approved by 83 per cent of members

Selkirk music students turn up the semester-end volume

Five different ensemble student bands will take the stage on Dec. 12

CP Holiday Train returning to Nelson next week

Train will stop at Lakeside Park railway crossing on Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

Nelson police searching for missing woman

Heather Gunderson hasn’t been seen since Sunday

New system to keep Nakusp-area snowmobilers, caribou from meeting

GPS tracking keeps caribou safe while opening up the backcountry for sledding

VIDEO: Federal Liberals’ throne speech welcomes opposition’s ideas

Trudeau will need NDP or Bloc support to pass legislation and survive confidence votes

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Vancouver Island college for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Coachwerks Restorations come together to care for car

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

B.C. NDP touts the end of MSP premiums

Horgan, James held news conference to reiterate that people will get their last bill this month

Illicit drug deaths down, but B.C. coroner says thousands still overdose

Chief coroner Life Lapointe says province’s drug supply remains unpredictable

Trustees ask for more help after tearful meeting on B.C. school’s ‘toxic’ stench

Enforcement has ‘no teeth,’ school trustee says, while kids become sick

Most Read