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Column: Rutland Middle School parents feeling slighted - again

Ministry of education saying RMS is just fine for now
Barry Gerding.

Rutland Middle School is an iconic reminder of all that is both positive and frustrating about the community it serves.

The school’s history dates back to the 1930s. Many Rutland residents matriculated through its halls in their school years, and are now seeing their own kids attending the same school.

A genuine community connection that extends across generations.

And while that history on one level is a source of pride to long-time Rutland residents, with history also comes a need for change, to replace a school that has done its service for a newer facility that better meets the modern needs for educating students.

But while that message has resonated among school trustees and school district administrative staff over the past two decades, not so much for those who control the education capital spending purse strings in Victoria.

With the ministry of education facing the age-old conundrum of trying to balance an overwhelming demand for new or updated schools spiked by rising enrolment against financial resources that can’t meet all those needs, RMS funding replacement requests have gotten the short end of the stick.

One challenge has been simply identifying a site to build a new RMS, a search that has come up empty.

One site was proposed within the Agricultural Land Reserve, but the Agricultural Land Commission quashed that suggestion before it ever got off the ground.

More recently, the school district put together a plan to repurpose Quigley Elementary as a middle school, with surrounding elementary schools absorbing Quigley’s Kindergarten to Grade 5 students.

But ministry officials rejected that solution, citing a ministry policy of not closing existing schools which are perfectly functional. In other words, you can’t sacrifice Quigley to get an RMS replacement.

And as for replacement, the ministry has been more interested in funnelling capital spending for new schools, with a priority mandate to address seismic issues and eliminate the need for portables.

RMS did not fit that funding priority because, despite its age, the school remains safe for students to attend and presents no health hazards. In other words, the walls, bathrooms and wooden lockers may be old and outdated, but the quality of academic programs offered to students is not.

The irony is while school district operations staff have shown creativity and been resourceful to keep the school in an ongoing infrastructure functioning state, that in turn has left the ministry to say we don’t need to replace a school that is functioning just fine.

So in the end, despite all those efforts by the school district, despite Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick advocating on the school district’s behalf, despite endless cabinet ministers given a tour of the school, despite a school district-led ‘postcard’ campaign for parents and stakeholders to send a message to Victoria advocating for a new RMS, even despite front-page stories about the school by the Capital News that have landed on ministry officials’ desks or computer screens, still no funding to replace RMS.

And the message from the planning and facilities committee meeting last Wednesday – there is little if no hope of that changing in the future.

Hence, in the new school district’s new Five Year Capital Plan, which the committee has now forwarded to the board of education for approval, the school district has taken a tactical shift, switching RMS as a top priority from the school replacement category to a school addition category.

Kaylyn Martin, president of the Rutland Middle parent advisory council, told the committee as news of that change filtered through the Rutland community, it was greeted with widespread disappointment.

Martin is one of those parents who attended RMS and now sees her daughter attending the same school. She spoke honestly of how embarrassing it is to have RMS showcased to other visiting students, and of how RMS students feel about visiting other schools and seeing what they don’t have.

But she also understands her frustration does not rest with the school district or trustees, it sits in Victoria where capital spending decisions are made. And she wondered what parents can do in support of RMS’s case.

While the result will be a new school with the potential for capital funding opportunities being expanded under the school addition category, the pathway to how that plays out remains unknown, how building a new school one significant piece at a time will work out.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers, chair of the planning and facilities committee, said a ballpark estimate of addition to RMS would be about $50 million, which is less than the cost to build an entirely new middle school, which would be north of $100 million.

Innovation and creativity have become a hallmark of Central Okanagan Public Schools’ administrative staff, but pursuing a new addition to RMS as a means to build a replacement school on the same site will be challenging.

While that may be a small consolation to Rutland parents, it’s the best option they now have.

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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