Trustees must face the reality that replacing Rutland Middle School could take a decade or longer, says the chair of the Central Okanagan Board of Education.
Moyra Baxter says the ministry of education has indicated its current school funding mandate is to provide new rather than replacement schools, accommodating students with nowhere to go rather than those already in a school deemed as safe.
“They said to us the existing (Rutland Middle School) is not unsafe and not the school in the worst condition in the province right now,” Baxter noted.
The question about RMS’s future fate arose during a debate at Wednesday’s board of education meeting over a resolution to review the open catchment policy as it affects Black Mountain and Ellison elementary schools.
Baxter wanted to see the review expanded to include all Rutland schools currently under the open catchment policy rather than taking what she called “a piece-meal approach” of restricting the review to only the two schools.
The board voted against Baxter’s amendment, citing the uncertainty of the RMS solution, which if and when resolved might necessitate yet another review of the catchment policy depending on where the school is located.
Baxter felt that decision was short-sighted because of the uncertainty over RMS’s future.
“I could be another 10 or 15 years before what to do with RMS is resolved but we can’t just sit around waiting until that happens when issues like this come up,” said Baxter of the open catchment review.
An audience member asked for clarification on the delay about RMS’s future location, wondering why the ministry hasn’t taken steps to resolve the situation.
Baxter said the decision sits with the ministry staff.
“All we can do is keep nagging them about it at this point and we will continue to do that. But the focus of funding priorities right now is to build new schools,” she said.
Baxter noted past ideas by the board to secure land within the Agricultural Land Reserve and to relocate RMS at the existing site of Quigley Elementary with infrastructure updates to that school have been rejected.
She said ministry staff were in Kelowna last year to see first-hand the school situation in the Central Okanagan School District, and one of the first places they visited on their tour was RMS.
“The problem is coming up with a site to build a new replacement school. There is no land available in Rutland if you can’t look at sites within the ALR, and the ministry policy is not to replace existing schools,” she said.
“One of the reasons the capital priority has shifted to building a new high school on the Westside is land is available there to accommodate it.”
The Quigley proposal called for students to be reassigned to other neighbouring schools, and the building be transformed into the new middle school.
The board also approved a catchment review for both Bankhead Elementary and Watson Road Elementary due to the growth of the Clifton Road and Highpointe Drive subdivisions causing confusion about where the catchment borders fall.
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