Mayor Deb Kozak wants to know what’s going on with Trafalgar Middle School.
Years ago the city, during community discussions about building a new school on the property, agreed to turn over a parcel of land to the province. According to Kozak, “the council of the day was acting in good faith, saying we understand the plan is to build a new school and we would like to be a part of that.”
But now a rebuild of Trafalgar Middle School is no longer in the cards. The school is slated for closure, as part of the district’s long-term facilities planning process finalized in July, and will be demolished. Kozak said residents are starting to eyeball the prime piece of real estate on which it currently sits.
If everything goes according to plan — an outcome contingent on a significant financial investment from the province — a new elementary school will be built on the land, but that will only take up part of the property.
And Kozak wants to make sure council is a part of the discussion on what happens next. That’s why she met with Education Minister Mike Bernier, who toured Trafalgar earlier this year, to try to coax some information from him about how things are going to play out in the years to come.
They met face to face during the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) annual convention.
“He listened to us. He listened and said he would be meeting with the school district about it soon. There were no promises, and no commitments made from the province, but what we did state clearly is if there’s a new school built, the Nelson community would like to be involved in the planning.”
And Kozak’s frustrated by how long it’s taken for something to happen. Parents, teachers and students have long been aware of the dire state the school is in. When Bernier visited he quipped, “Is that my knees creaking or is that the floors?” while walking down the hallway with Principal Carol-Ann Leidloff.
“It’s frustrating there hasn’t been more attention paid to Trafalgar for a long, long time. The fact is rural schools just don’t receive the attention that urban ones do. It’s a huge issue in this province,” said Kozak.
And this is a priority for her.
“People are paying attention because the election is coming up. Within the next couple of years it’s up to the community, the council and the school district to help implement and understand the plan — and if there’s no possibility of a school being built there, what else can we do?”
One idea? Housing.
“It’s smack in the middle of a neighbourhood. Affordable housing seems to be one of our key issues, and that’s one example of a large piece of prime real estate. It wouldn’t take much to build housing there, it just takes money.”
Reached for comment by the Star, the Ministry of Education said they’re “counting” on the school district to work closely with the city.
“We understand they have had some discussions to date. We have just received the district’s capital plan along with all the other districts in the province,” the ministry said in an email.
“We will be assessing these plans over the coming months in order to establish priorities for future funding. We understand school district staff have undertaken significant work to develop a current long-range facilities plan that outlines a number of priority areas for capital investment.”
But no matter what, it’s going to be a while until something happens. Superintendent Jeff Jones encouraged parents and observers to remember that changes will roll out over the long-term.
“This is a long-range plan, looking forward to 2024. When people heard about the closure of Trafalgar as part of the facilities plan, I think the impression was that it would happen soon, but in the plan we wouldn’t see the closure until June 30, 2019.”
Jones believes the property will host a new South Nelson Elementary, while the remainder of the land could host a variety of other potential facilities or buildings.
“The most likely outcome for the land Trafalgar sits on is that moving forward the board will pursue a land-sharing partnership with the city, or some other community partner so that we’re making good use of that land,” said Jones.
And that gives them plenty of time to chat with Nelson council.
“I’m certain the board will be seeking those conversations just as the city is,” said Jones — something Kootenay Lake board chair Lenora Trenaman confirmed, saying they’re “keen on partnering or communicating so that the property is best utilized for everybody.”
Trenaman told the Star their facilities plan is “incremental,” and they’re not yet at the stage where they have to apply for capital funding. First they need to rebuild Salmo Elementary, then their attention will move to Blewett Elementary.
“We have to take one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. This will be one step that works towards our longer term goal.”
And Trenaman can imagine a whole bunch of potential outcomes for the excess land in Uphill.
“It could be extracurricular, it could be a shared library space — I have no idea — but we hope whatever we choose will benefit students and folks in our community.”
Trenaman was effusive that Kozak spoke to Bernier on their behalf.
“The board is very happy to hear the mayor is speaking to the minister on our behalf, and supporting our conversation. We’ve been talking to ministry folks for years about Trafalgar — and having it come from more than one voice — we appreciate that.”
Kozak reminded everyone to keep the upcoming provincial election in mind.
“This is an opportunity for the community to state clearly what we need: good, healthy facilities for our students.”
Ed. Note: The Kootenay Lake facilities plan will have far-reaching implications for the community, and questions remain about district configuration, classroom utilization and the roll-out of the new curriculum. The plan is also contingent on government funding, and without a significant investment for rebuilds and renovations it will be unable to go forward.
The Star is planning follow-up stories that will address these questions further.