Community consultation begins for new elementary school

Consultant Susan Plester would like to know what you would like to see included in a new Lake Cowichan elementary school, which is currently the number one item on School District 79's list of capital projects.

  • Jan. 24, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Quest Consulting Services consultant Susan Plester

Quest Consulting Services consultant Susan Plester

Consultant Susan Plester would like to know what you would like to see included in a new Lake Cowichan elementary school, which is currently the number one item on School District 79’s list of capital projects.

Plester, of Quest Consulting Services, is currently making rounds around the Cowichan Lake communities, to find out what area residents would like to see involved in the construction of a new elementary school in Lake Cowichan.

“A lot of people feel that schools are very under-utilized,” she told a group of seniors, during a presentation on the Neighbourhood of Learning model she gave before a Lake Cowichan Seniors’ Centre board meeting, Thursday, January 20. “When they’re not in session, they’re empty.”

Cowichan Valley School District 79 and the Town of Lake Cowichan partnered late last year in order to receive a $24,000 Neighbourhood of Learning provincial grant.

Of the grant, half went toward renovating the Lake Cowichan Secondary School’s greenhouse and a potential community garden area at the school, and the other half is going toward consultation to find out what the community would like to see involved in a Neighbourhood of Learning.

The Neighbourhood of Learning, Plester told the seniors during her January 20 presentation, “is a ministry initiative that was introduced in 2008, and is about co-locating schools and other community services.”

This could take a multitude of different forms, she said – all depending upon the results she gathers from the community during her consultation, which she began in November.

Some ideas the public has brought forward so far include; public library; sports/recreation; continuing education; various early learning options; adult learning centre; First Nations/aboriginal programs; community support services, such as a food bank, community kitchen, community services society, a meeting space with storage, a youth centre, and senior’s programs and services space; an RCMP station; performing arts stage area; Town of Lake Cowichan Municipal Office; commercial users, such as doctors, dentist, physiologist; community radio station; public computer centre, and other things.

This is simply the list of ideas presented to her by community members thus far, Plester said. A few, depending on space and cost, or none, of the items could end up part of a new school development.

“We want to make sure we come up with a model that will work with both parties,” she said, adding that, should the community not want a Neighbourhood of Learning model at all, they will simply get a new school, without the added components. “These conversations have started, but have not finished yet.”

The intention isn’t to put people out of work, to steal business, or to kick people out of spaces. These potential negative consequences are being looked into during the consultation.

“Anything we find that can fill gaps in this community would be nothing but a good thing,” she said.

There are many benefits to the Neighbourhood of Learning model, Plester said. One, is that all young child programs could be located within the same space.

Instead of having to transport kids to a different building in town, from Kindergarten to after school care, it could simply be a walk across a hallway.

“That’s a much more pleasant day for that child,” Plester said.

So far, the best location for this proposed Neighbourhood of Learning, according to previous consultation, has been determined to be the AB Greenwell Elementary School site.

“AB Greenwell is the preferred site,” Plester said. “Is that cast in stone? No.”

The Yount School site, which, like, AB Greenwell, was closed due to mould, and the Palsson Elementary School site, which is currently still operating, were also looked at.

One downside to the AB Greenwell site is that it’s less accessible than the other locations, Plester said, to the seniors’ agreement.

During her presentation, Plester addressed many concerns that were raised by the public. One of the more prominently-raised issues was related to School District 79’s finding that one elementary school would serve all of the Cowichan Lake area.

The number of students is dropping, Plester said, with no end in sight. There are only 30 Grade 2 students in the Cowichan Lake area at the moment, she said. By contrast, 53 Grade 12 students graduated from Lake Cowichan Secondary School in 2010.

When asked whether or not they took into account the upcoming Youbou Lands development, Plester said that they only consider things that are 100 per cent, assuming otherwise that things stay on course. That said, Plester added that there is always wiggle room for the unforeseeable.

Another concern is around closed campuses, in that schools are currently closed off to the public.

“Schools want to maintain that control,” Plester said.

Should a public library, as an example, be introduced into the new elementary school, there would be different times designated to the public and the school, in order to keep them separate.

“They can coexist and compliment one another,” she said.

Consultation will continue, Plester said, and will include public meetings, complete with surveys, to take place at the end of February, or early March.

The time and location of these meetings will be advertised in future issues of the Gazette.