The City of Kelowna has nixed a potential land-share use agreement with Central Okanagan Public Schools for a replacement site for Rutland Middle School (RMS).
The school district has approached the city about the potential to build a new middle school on the Rutland sportsfields, located adjacent to Rutland Arena and the Central Okanagan YMCA facility.
Ryan Stierman, secretary-treasurer/CFO of Central Okanagan Public Schools, said multiple discussions were held about the proposal, but the city is committed to expanding its sportsfield inventory as the population continues to escalate.
“It is one of several alternatives we have tried to move forward on in finding a new piece of land to build a new Rutland Middle School but none have found success so far,” said Stierman.
Those alternatives have included possible land swaps with the city and land acquisitions within the Rutland school community area, as well as securing land with the Agricultural Land Reserve for use as a school site.
The options for replacing RMS were the only two questions posed at an online town hall forum last week hosted by the school district to discuss options for enrolment issue facing RMS, Rutland Senior Secondary, Springvalley Middle and Black Mountain Elementary schools.
David Widdis, Central Okanagan Public Schools planning manager, said the school district is challenged in Rutland by a lack of available land to build a new middle school, and the complications that arise from adding additions to the various schools, including securing capital funding approval from the provincial ministry of education.
“We need to address enrolment issues facing Rutland Senior Secondary but we can’t really address those until we resolve the Rutland Middle School question,” Widdis said.
He said the ALR land securement pathway is also unwieldy – the approval process to have land removed can take more than a year; the land seller would have to proceed with the application as the ministry of education won’t buy any land that has not already been approved for ALR removal; and there is no guarantee if the seller is successful in a land removal bid the ministry would approve the land purchase.
“It is a long process with no certainty to it,” Widdis acknowledged.
Moyra Baxter, board of education chair, said it not a lack of commitment or effort on the school district’s part that a replacemement option for RMS, which was built in 1949 and now has 11 portables on site, has not been realized.
‘“We have met with two or three different agriculture ministers over time to talk about possible sites tied up in the ALR. We have met with different ministers of education on this and hope to talk soon with the new minister of education,” said Baxter.
“We have come pretty close on some decisions but they have fallen by the wayside.”
The most recent was a plan to renovate Quigley Elementary into a middle school, and see the current elementary students dispersed to surrounding elementary schools.
The school board, after much debate, approved the idea but the ministry of education turned down the proposal, citing a policy to not close or alter existing school space and placing a greater emphasis on building new schools rather than replacing aging ones which are still structurally safe.
“It has not just dawned on us we have an issue here…we are working hard to find some way to resolve this issue we have in the Rutland area,” Baxter added.
The town hall is one of several forums scheduled to receive public input on issues facing the school board in developing an updated long-term facilities plan for adoption in May.
Other online town hall forums have been scheduled for Feb. 11 (Central Kelowna schools); Feb. 16 (Westside schools), 5 p.m.; and Feb. 18 (Mission/Lake Country schools), 5 p.m.
Input can also be submitted online to the school district by clicking on the link https://my.thoughtexchange.com/626419515.
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