Two school trustees voted against a motion Monday night to bump Westmount elementary from its top-priority status among school district capital spending projects.
A motion to move South Kamloops secondary to No. 1 among capital priorities passed with a majority of trustees agreeing that the aging high school’s needs are foremost.
“I think we need Westmount and South Kamloops secondary,” said Trustee Megan Wade after the school board considered a staff report on SKS. “I’m not comfortable changing priorities.”
“They’re busting at the seams,” said Trustee Joseph Small, who visited Westmount and saw that all available space is taken up by portable classrooms. The growth of Batchelor Heights has increased enrolment significantly.
There is no guarantee that the district will be able to secure from the province any new capital funding, but discussion centred around the pressing needs of South Kamloops. In a year’s time, 240 students from adjacent John Peterson will move over to South Kamloops as part of a consolidation plan. Current enrolment at SKS is 900 and the school can’t accommodate more without renovations.
A report from Alison Sidow, assistant district superintendent, outlined a list of capital improvements required for South Kamloops secondary. The improvements would be a stopgap measure to buy time since it could be years before the district receives the estimated $50 million required to replace South Kamloops.
“The problem is the school was built in 1951 and the purpose of schools was really very different then,” Sidow said.
She recommended upgrades totalling $431,000, including two additional portable classrooms, additional computer lab capacity, upgraded washrooms and change rooms, and upgraded wi-fi.
“This district has practiced good stewardship, however, it is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain the building,” Sidow noted in her report. The school’s projected lifespan ends in 2025 and it can take most of a decade to plan and deliver a new one.
Trustee Joan Cowden noted that MLA Todd Stone had toured the old school as recently as 18 months ago as the board tried to press home the need for a replacement: “I really feel it’s essential,” she said.
“We’re going to very quickly be in a position where we’re looking at structural problems where safety issues are a concern,” said Trustee Kathleen Karpuk.
The district is in a position where it may have to spend good money after bad to keep the school operational while another can be built.
“What will happen is, we’re going to get into bigger issues,” said Art McDonald, director of facilities. “Will it last longer than 10 years? Yes, but it will cost more money to do that.”
The board voted unanimously to address the renovation issues and proceed with the consolidation plan, as well as to continue lobbying the provincial government for funds to replace South Kamloops within five years. There was no consensus on shifting priorities, though.