Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick keeps a list on his office in Victoria of the campaign promises he has made.
As each one is achieved, he draws a line through that item.
Prominent on that list yet to be struck off is a building replacement for Rutland Middle School, as so far years of lobbying the ministry of education by the Liberal MLA for funding has fallen on deaf ears both under Liberal and NDP provincial governments.
Letnick acknowledges the frustration of nothing happening with RMS over more than a decade since the Central Okanagan Board of Education declared it a capital project priority.
“It was a commitment I ran for in the election and I will continue to fight for, to keep advocating and never give up,” said Letnick, joined in that effort by neighbouring Liberal MLA Steve Thomson, who has constituents who attend the middle school as well.
“There are a lot of reasons others give for not replacing RMS at this time but you won’t hear them from me.”
Most recently, during a one-day stop in Kelowna, Letnick arranged for a tour of the school with current Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson.
“I just wanted our leader to have an appreciation of the condition at RMS,” he said.
Marie Howell, president of the RMS Parent Advisory Council, is tired if hearing why the school can’t be replaced, calling it an embarrassment to the staff who have to work and students who attend class in the building.
“Anyone that walks into our school can see and smell the age of our school, ” Howell said, which is now 70 years old.
“Comments such as ‘This school is a dump’ and ‘This is gross’ are heard often coming out of visitors’ mouths. The paint both inside and outside is aging—peeling off the walls, the skirting boards and doors.
“The smell is one of the worst things people comment about the school.”
She cites other school building flaws as lack of an elevator to access the second floor and library for disability challenged students, one set of bathrooms each with eight stalls and four sinks for 560 students, 10 portables that accommodate half the school student population, a heating bill that is $60,000 more compared to a new school, gym floor and change rooms that are deteriorating and exterior wall stucco held up up by wooden slats.
Howell said her parent advisory council is fed up with the endless waiting for a new school, pinning hope on a newly elected board of education and provincial government might get better results.
She attended a planning and capital facilities committee meeting last week where trustees discussed the current state of affairs regarding RMS’s future, hopeful that an opportunity for school board members attending the trustee education symposium this week to meet with the Education Minister Rob Fleming and the deputy minister in part on this issue might achieve some positive results.
“Hopefully that will help get something done, otherwise we are prepared to campaign and lobby who we have to to bring attention to our school’s situation,” she said.
“Even if they made a decision tomorrow to approve a new school, it will take five years for that process to be completed. At this stage, it could be 10 years before we see anything happen and the existing school will just be that much older.”
She remembers when her oldest child, now in Grade 8, started Kindergarten, thinking that when he reached his middle school years, he would be attending a new school, but now that’s not going to happen.
Howell recounts the story of another student, disabled and requiring a wheelchair, who has attended school at Rutland Elementary and was due to move on to RMS with her peer group, but now can’t because of accessibility issues.
“Now she is forced to have to attend a different school and be separated from her peer group. That is an absurd situation to occur in this day and age.”
Howell feels the ultimate solution will be to build a new school on the existing RMS sportsfields so the old school can continue to operate during the construction phase.
The school district has searched for a new site for RMS without any success in Rutland, and a recent proposal to renovate Quigley Elementary as a new middle school was shot down by the education ministry, which has a policy to oppose existing schools being torn down or renovated as a replacement school.
Letnick said school capital funding falls into three categories of priority—seismic upgrades which tend to focus on potential earthquake-sensitive Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland schools, new schools in growing enrolment areas and replacement of existing schools.
“RMS falls in the grey area between those priorities and is still considered a safe school structurally,” Letnick said.
Howell said while RMS might be classified as safe, she feels the building is eroding year by year and the cost to repair it will only continue to increase.
Howell’s PAC received a letter Oct. 23 from Joel Palmer, executive director of the education ministry’s capital management branch, citing reasons of rapid enrolment growth in some B.C. school districts and the demands of the school Seismic Mitigation Program as delaying progress on a replacement for RMS.
Palmer also noted since 2007, there have been six new school projects that have added 2,940 new student spaces at a cost of $131.26 million for the Central Okanagan School District.
Those projects include Mar Jok and Chute Lake elementary schools, Canyon Falls and Lake Country middle schools and additions to both Okanagan-Mission and Mount Boucherie secondary schools.
“It’s just very frustrating for parents and the only thing we can do is to keep lobbying to get something done about our school,” Howell concluded. “After years of not seeing anything done, our parents have had enough.”