West Kelowna city councillor Doug Findlater says planning and capital funding for new schools in his city are not keeping up with the rapid population growth. (File photo)

School board claps back at West Kelowna councillor’s comments

“I think that is quite rude, isn’t it?” Said Moyra Baxter, Central Okanagan Board of Education chair

A comment by a West Kelowna councillor has caused some confusion about a school site proposed for the proposed Goat’s Peak development.

At the May 24 council meeting, Coun. Doug Findlater talked about how Central Okanagan Public Schools planning has not kept up with the growth of West Kelowna.

In particular, he noted it odd the school district has given up a site optioned for a new school in the Goat’s Peak subdivision.

But the school district says Findlater’s comment was out of context with the status of that particular site.

David Widdis, planning manager for Central Okanagan Public Schools, stated in an internal memo the school district has provided input to the City of West Kelowna’s Official Community Plan (OCP) review regarding the Goat’s Peak Area Structure Plan and the need for land for a school site.

“There was a request for the school district to enter into an agreement for a potential for right of refusal (with a specific timeline attached); however, due to provincial governments approvals process, the school district is unable to commit to any timing for when the ministry would support or approve the site acquisition,” stated Widdis.

“The property remains on the school district’s five year capital plan and will remain on the list until the site is acquired in the future. We continue to work with all municipalities to identify school site opportunities through the OCP designation for institutional use…”

Findlater told the Capital News he was speaking at the council meeting from the perspective of the school district telling new Goat’s Peak residents their school catchment area for elementary school right now would be Peachland Elementary, while there had been no progress on the site development according to city planning staff.

He added that both Kelowna and West Kelowna face challenges with growth and a need for new schools, ultimately placing the blame squarely on the provincial ministry of education to provide more capital funding.

“We’re not keeping up. We got the new secondary school and that is a step forward, but there are other (school) needs and the Central Okanagan is projected to grow very rapidly,” Findlater said.

“The school district is doing its best without the capital funding it needs and the government is choosing to fund building a new museum.”

Moyra Baxter, Central Okanagan Board of Education chair, said she questioned Findlater’s comment that the school district needs a “bonk on the head” when it comes to planning for growth.

“I don’t think you would over-hear a trustee or school board chair say those sorts of things about municipal councils. I think that is quite rude, isn’t it?”

But Baxter acknowledged Findlater’s comments about the school district being shortsighted related to decisions to sell school properties, such as Lakeview Heights and Westbank Elementary schools in the early 2000s, and convert George Pringle from a secondary to elementary school.

Baxter said those decisions provided an immediate financial gain for the school district but have now tied its hands in trying to address spiking population growth both in Kelowna and West Kelowna.

“It’s not like we weren’t aware back then the Westside was going to grow,” recounted Baxter, who was a school trustee when those decisions were adopted.

“People came to meetings saying one secondary school was not enough for the Westside. I voted against it being changed but the majority of the board back then were for it…It made no sense to me whatsoever back then and now it still makes no sense whatsoever.”

She also cites the example of not selling the shut down Bellevue Creek or Webber Road elementary school sites, both of which will be operational again for the 2022-23 school years in response to rising enrolments.

The search for a new secondary school site, Baxter added, revealed West Kelowna has a similar issue to the Rutland area in Kelowna – lack of available property to house new schools.

There are sites for the Smith Creek and Goat’s Peak developments suitable for elementary schools, but there will be a long-term need at some point to build a new middle school, she said.

READ MORE: School district needs to keep up with West Kelowna growth

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