An early learning centre is the partner Cowichan Lake area residents would most like involved with the construction of a proposed new elementary school in the Town of Lake Cowichan.
An early learning centre is followed, in order, by a youth centre, adult education, sports and recreation, multi-purpose space, community garden, and performing arts.
These, and additional findings, are the result of months’ worth of consultation dating back to the fall of last year, when consultant Sue Plester of Quest Consulting began preliminary interviews with prominent members of the community. The subsequent two stages broadened the scope of her consultations to invite the public at large, and included two well-advertised evening public meetings.
In addition to interviews and public awareness presentations around a neighbourhood of learning model, 64 questionnaires were filled out.
“That was a disappointing number at first,” Plester said, of the 64 questionnaires. “But, I think we got good information throughout the process.”
Plester spoke to the results of her consultation with the public during the Town of Lake Cowichan’s Tuesday, June 7, committee meeting.
“It gives us that first sense where people are going with their level of interest,” Plester said, of the results. “The results are still meaningful, as these counts echo what came up elsewhere… 64 is really more voices than that.”
A neighbourhood of learning model, in a nutshell, is the centralization of community services.
In this case, it’s related to the construction of a new elementary school in the Town of Lake Cowichan to replace the AB Greenwell Elementary School, which moved to the Yount School site in Youbou a few years ago after mould issues were discovered.
“It’s additional dollars to build additional infrastructure,” Plester said. “It’s about new space, and more space.”
Going through the results with the town’s elected officials, Plester pointed out one barrier, in addition to the low number of questionnaires filled out; the age of those that filled them out.
“At public meetings, there is more gray hair than there isn’t,” she said, adding that few are likely to have young kids of their own. Regardless, an early learning centre still topped the list of preferred partners.
Another barrier, which was remedied to some degree with the presentation component of the public meetings, was misinformation.
Some residents were concerned about displacement/disruption of current businesses, which was never the intention of the proposed new Neighbourhood of Learning site.
“This is about adding value,” Plester said. “It’s not about putting things out of businesses.”
Another concern was the co-mingling of young elementary school students with older students, and the public at large; something often cited as a safety concern.
With a blank page to design the building, each group could be sealed off of one another, Plester said, with each group using different entrances and parking areas.
For some people, the old AB Greenwell site is not their preferred location for a new school, as it isn’t central enough.
In closing, Plester passed the results on to mayor and council for them to decide what to do with.
“I think this report provides a new conversation on this topic,” she said. “I think there’s data for decision-makers to make the next step.”
Mayor Ross Forrest informed his fellow elected officials that a meeting with town officials and the school board has been struck, to take place early next month.
“This is obviously the topic that we’ll be discussing with them,” Forrest said. “We want to get it rolling.”
Plester was hired using half of a $24,000 Neighbourhood of Learning grant the Town of Lake Cowichan received in conjunction with School District 79.
The other half is currently being used to re-do the Lake Cowichan Secondary School’s greenhouse, as well as construct a few community garden boxes at the school site, next to the bus loop.