Isabella Dicken Elementary School has previously had to use the gym for classes while waiting for new portables to arrive. Pictured are Joe Dillon and Garrett Stirling. File photo

Plight of Kootenay schools highlighted in budget report

Provincial budget report notes huge repair bill at Cranbrook school and capacity issues in Fernie

The plight of schools in the southeast Kootenay has been highlighted in a provincial budget report, fuelling hopes funding could soon follow.

School District 5 (SD5) has been lobbying for a replacement school in Cranbrook and funding to address capacity issues in Fernie.

Isabella Dicken Elementary School long outgrew its current facility and has been forced to rely on portable classrooms to accommodate growth.

LOOK BACK: Isabella Dicken Elementary gets creative

At the start of the 2018/19 school year, the Fernie school had 472 enrolments – 28 more than projected – with 75 students in Grade 1 alone.

Cranbrook’s Mount Baker Secondary School has also been earmarked for replacement due to nearly $400,000 in emergency repairs needed at the music and drama room.

LOOK BACK: Southeast Kootenay public schools going through a growth spurt

Trustee Chris John presented SD5’s funding priorities to the BC Legislative Assembly’s Select Standing Committee on Finances and Government Services (SSCFGS) on September 25.

The SSCFGS is a nonpartisan committee tasked with gathering public feedback on the next provincial budget and has the ability to make budget recommendations.

In a release issued by SD5 Friday, the Board said it was both surprised and pleased to find that SD5’s funding requests were including in the SSCFGS’ budget consultation report, released November 15.

“School District No. 5 (Southeast Kootenay) described… challenges with overcapacity and the use of portables in Fernie, a city with a growth rate of 18 per cent, the fastest in the country,” reads the section in the SSCFGS report.

“The District highlighted issues at Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook where almost $400,000 in emergency repairs are required for the music and drama room in order to maintain the structural integrity of the building.

“They advocated for a full replacement of that school.”

Board Chair and long-time Fernie resident, Frank Lento, said he hopes the Ministry of Education will seriously consider the recommendations contained in the SSCFGS Report, and invest capital infrastructure monies further east of the lower mainland.

“Under the previous government, capital investment to education was at an all-time low, so our Board is certainly pleased to witness the current government’s investment in school infrastructure,” he said.

“We are, however, disappointed to note that of the 70 most recent capital projects being undertaken or recently completed, less than 10 per cent fall outside Vancouver Island or the lower mainland.”

According to Lento, the closest capital projects undertaken near the southeast Kootenay are two schools in Kelowna and one in Prince George.

For more information on SD5’s advocacy work and to view the Board’s presentation to the SSCFGS, visit Sd5.bc.ca/Board/advocacy/.

To view the SSCFGS Budget Report 2019, visit Leg.bc.ca/cmt/finance.

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