Dealing with the issue of choosing the current École George Pringle Elementary site as the location for a proposed new Westside secondary school was a lengthy one for the Central Okanagan Public Schools board of education at its May 26, meeting.
The debate went on for more than one hour, due in part to board chair Moyra Baxter allowing the public to respond via Zoom with questions about secondary school location options before the school board engaged in reaching a decision.
While the trustees voted unanimously to proceed with the George Pringle option, the fallout over the impact of English and French Immersion students, along with catchment area adjustments for all Westside schools, will be engaged in a public consultation process to begin this fall.
Many questions were raised by the public on a wide variety of aspects to this decision, some of which are outlined below:
What are the capacity expectations for the new high school?
Will be 1,100 to 1,200 students at outset with the ability to expand to 1,500 students if enrolment continues to rise.
What are the options for French Immersion students currently at George Pringle?
Capacity exists for all students to shift to Glenrosa Elementary with the addition of a couple of portables, or they could be split between Hudson Road Elementary and Glenrosa Elementary. That decision will be made by the board following a public consultation process starting this fall.
Why not build the new school on Webber Elementary site?
It has some advantages: the site is owned by school district, close to a portion of students it would serve, adequate size to meet secondary school parking, building and land use specifications, and while the site is within Agriculture Land Reserve, a decision dating back to 1975 by the Agricultural Land Commission allowed for designated use as a secondary school.
On the downside, the location presents traffic access challenges, the steep grade will require extensive landscaping and retaining walls, and part of the site is an Indigenous pit house archaeological heritage site which could take years to resolve before any construction could proceed.
The site facility is currently leased to the City of West Kelowna as a neighbourhood recreation centre, with its primary occupant being the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club.
Why is time of the essence in adding a second Westside secondary school?
That is because Mount Boucherie Secondary School (MBSS) is bulging at the seams.
The school district has approval from the City of West Kelowna to add two more portables on-site at this point, but the expectation is with current enrolment trends that school would need six to nine new portables by 2029.
An added challenge is due to École Kelowna Senior Secondary overcrowding, as Westside French Immersion students who currently attend that school could be shifted back to MBSS on a temporary basis in September 2022 until the new Westside secondary school is built.
The board of education is expected to revisit that move in June, pending a recommendation from the planning and facilities committee.
What happens at MBSS if the new school is delayed or not built?
It will come to a point where MBSS students would have to be moved to available space in other schools.
Was noted at the board meeting that if the City of West Kelowna builds a new city hall, the vacated space of the current city hall, next to MBSS, could be utilized.
What is the enrolment imbalance on the Westside?
Schools in Rose Valley, Shannon Lake and Hudson Road catchments along with Neil Bruce Middle are all currently in excess of enrolment capacity, while Glenrosa Elementary and Middle schools are under capacity.
That imbalance will play a role in how students are relocated from George Pringle and how catchment boundaries could shift in the future.
Negative public impact of George Pringle being repurposed?
Will affect current adjacent community gardens plot site and dog park, both of which currently exist on land that is actually owned by the school district.
The site is leased by the city for those public use on a month-to-month basis.
How many students impacted and what is the cost?
About 180 to 200 English curriculum students will have to be moved from George Pringle to Webber Road Elementary; about 200 to 225 FI students would be relocated.
The cost to reopen Webber Elementary and adjust for added enrolment at other impacted elementary schools will be about $570,000.
Will students have access to additional bus transportation?
Is expected the school repurposing will add one to two new bus route services to meet student transportation eligibility needs.
Impact of further delays to new Westside Secondary being built?
No new schools can proceed in school district until the resolution of the Westside Secondary issue, considered by the ministry of education as the top priority in the school district’s five-year capital plan.
For new schools, the next two top priorities for securing capital funding from the ministry would be a new Glenmore secondary school, and a new Wilden area elementary school.
What about the seven-acre Smith Creek land site owned by the school district?
Not considered suitable to meet secondary school specifications, that site is targeted for a future elementary or middle school site.
Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.