Residents dispute sale of school

North Saanich residents are upset over the proposed sale of Sansbury school. They took their concerns to the School Board during a public meeting at North Saanich middle school, where many said they felt it was a done deal.

The Saanich School Board outlined its plan regarding the sale of Sansbury school explaining the property issues, options considered and history of the site.

Heather Gartshore started the public input, noting the “overall considerations” in the School Board presentation. She quoted the board’s stance, which states a “desire to work with [the] community on an option with least impact and which fulfills commitments and complies with the School Act and Board policy.”

Gartshore pointed out that if the Board truly had a desire to work with the community, it would have engaged the neighbourhood before submitting the application for rezoning to the District of North Saanich, and would have respected the required half-acre zoning requirement in that area. The application to the District, made in December, asks for third-acre zoning and a change from P1 institutional to R1 residential. The School Board plan is for 12 residential lots.

Gartshore finished by asking the board to withdraw its application for rezoning. The request was met with applause.

Another resident, later in the meeting, noted that a private developer recently asked for third-acre lots and the community indicated a resounding no, and the District of North Saanich denied the application.

Lesley Arnold, of Allegro Performing Arts Centre, explained the benefits that the current tenant of the Sansbury school site contributes to the community. There they teach dance and musical theatre to more than 500 people aged three years old to adult. The former Sansbury school is also home to In the Garden Daycare which provides day and after school care.

“It would be a shame to sell a school that is contributing to the community in a positive way,” Arnold said.

A mother of a dance student later added, “I think that is a big part of our community, kids having a place to go.”

She noted that, aside from the dance school and day care, the site provides avenues for sledding, soccer or field hockey.

Brian Gartshore pointed out that “at first blush it makes sense” to sell the property to help fund the building of another site. But he noted two major considerations. First that property values have risen to the point that secondary suites are an issue, and likely those living in any development on the Sansbury site would be “of child bearing years.” Would there then be too many students and need of another school?

He also noted the school is being used as a school, with more than 500 students. He felt it is like “a farmer selling the farm to build a barn.”

“You are the stewards of the land,” Gartshore added. “It’s not a business, it’s a stewardship.”

Resident Terry Erskine was the first to state that the decision had been made.

“It would require a motion to reconsider?” Erskine asked. The Board indicated yes.

“You’ve made a decision … and now you’re asking for input,” Erskine said. “I believe that’s the most undemocratic move I’ve seen in my 67 years.”

He noted that the school currently has a tenant paying monthly rent, with a lease that expires June 30, 2009.

While the Board stated the property has no covenants on title, Erskine pointed out the land was bought in 1949 from a family land trust. He voiced concern over the possibility of the property needing to conform to terms and conditions of that trust.

Joan Axford, who made the School Board presentation, noted that they did not have terms and conditions of the trust, but does have the transaction between the parties.

“If you can assist us with that, that would be helpful,” said superintendent Keven Elder.

He felt the required move was for the Board to table the motion and create a task force to look at the Sansbury site. A new motion would be required to alter the School Board’s resolution to sell the property.

“I believe somewhere down the road that property will be needed as a school,” Erskine said. “We’re selling out an asset that belongs to our future leaders.”

Other residents spoke against the sale of the property citing the lack of public input.

The Board presentation cited consultations as those that surrounded school closures from a community forum in 2003 to the public meeting on the new school in January 2006.

It cited property issues, including that the property is no longer an asset but a liability. Also, that there is “no mandate to maintain assets for community use” and that the district doesn’t have the funding to maintain and upgrade the closed school and grounds.

It also showed options explored by the board. That included retaining the P1 zoning and selling “as is” which would suggest community care facility or church (based on past interest).

They also considered selling the building to the lessee, Allegro, without the property which would keep the dance school in the community. Their concerns there were that the property would then likely become commercially zoned, decreasing the neighbouring property values, and that the community may disagree with the rezoning. Such a decision may delay the overall rezoning process.

The other concern, as stated in the presentation, is that the 50-year-old building is in need of significant upgrades.

In December, the board decided to proceed to rezone the entire site.

The District of North Saanich has put all rezoning applications in the District on hold until they can complete their Official Community Plan review.

Elder noted that the Board was keeping minutes and taking information that it would take into consideration.

He pointed out the issue isn’t black and white and the board needed to balance the “competing ‘right things’.”

The Saanich School Board holds its next public meeting March 14.

The entire presentation given by the Board is available online at Click on Facilities/Transportation on the left side of the screen. Then click Available Surplus Space for Lease or Sale on the right side of the screen.

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