Board hears offers for closed schools

If schools have to close in the Okanagan-Skaha School District, there are groups eager to take over some of the facilities.

If schools have to close in the Okanagan-Skaha School District, there are groups eager to take over some of the facilities.

According to information given at a public meeting Monday, offers were made for McNicoll Park Middle School as well as Carmi and Westbench Elementary Schools.

In Summerland, Giant’s Head School and Trout Creek School are each under consideration for closure.

Over the last few months, the school board has been seeking input from parents and the community about which schools in the district should close or not close.

But for this meeting, they were seeking input on what to do with whatever facilities they eventually choose to close.

Many of the suggestions brought forward suggested empty schools could be converted to some form of housing, whether for low-income housing or seniors, as has been done in other jurisdictions, like Sudbury, Toronto and New Jersey, where a private firm, Conifer Living, is converting heritage schools into seniors’ housing.

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit conveyed the city’s stance that school sports fields are valued assets they would like to preserve, possibly by subdividing the fields from the school property.

Bill Bidlake, school board vice-chair, said it’s unlikely the board could choose to stay with the status quo and not close any schools.

“Realistically, we have to help the budget process, so we are definitely looking at the possibility of school closures,” said Bidlake. He and board chair Linda Van Alphen agreed that working with the city to continue use of school fields was an option.

Van Alphen said the board hadn’t intended to discuss alternate uses until after they had decided which schools were closed.

However, she explained, that the Ministry of Education had mandated that a meeting collecting alternative community uses be part of the process they follow when evaluating closures.