While the Sooke School District is looking to build new schools and expand some of its existing facilities, it’s also looking to get rid of one that hasn’t held regular classes in over a decade.
Metchosin elementary school played host to Happy Valley elementary students in the wake of the 2004 fire that destroyed the original school, as well as some of the district’s trades programs a few years ago, but otherwise it has remained dormant as far as public education is concerned.
Late last month school trustees passed first reading of a bylaw that would allow SD62 to looks at the disposition of the property, which sits within the Metchosin village and has hosted the Metchosin Arts and Cultural Centre Association (MACCA) for the past seven years, as well as the Metchosin Seniors’ Information and Resource Centre.
Superintendent Jim Cambridge shared three reasons why they are looking at disposition.
Firstly, he said, there is little projected growth in the area and it’s become clear that the school won’t be re-opening.
“The second reason is that the revenue generated from rentals doesn’t cover the cost of operating and maintaining the building,” Cambridge noted.
The third reason is tied to the school district’s planned expansion. “The government would like us to contribute to that and part of their conditions are to get rid of surplus property,” he said.
The property’s value has been assessed, but Cambridge declined to disclose any figures.
Art Brendon, chair of MACCA, wrote a letter to the district board outlining their hopes for the building on behalf of the organization.
“It is our belief that the entire property could be operated sustainably as a public access facility,” he wrote.
Brendon detailed that the centre has become an arts and culture hub for the community, local artists and organizations.
“This is not just a ‘piece of property’ but the actual geographic and social heart of a community. Any use for this property must respect and reflect this,” he continued in the letter.
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns, who attended the school in his youth, would like to see the school district go in a different direction.
“From sitting on the outside and seeing how difficult it is to find school sites and seeing how fast Colwood and Langford are growing … I would like them to reconsider the sale altogether and maybe work with us on how to establish an arts-based school option,” he said.
The property is zoned for instutitional use and Ranns said Metchosin won’t allow re-zoning. He said they’ve floated an offer to the school district that falls below the assessed value, but that an agreement hasn’t been reached. A completed sale would likely see Metchosin secure leases for its user groups before selling the building to a private educational instution.
Conversations with private interests have already taken place, Ranns confirmed.
The school district’s bylaw is scheduled to receive second and third readings at a meeting on May 23. “If they do that we’ll be having to put it to tender through an agent,” Cambridge said.
The school district wants to have a piece of land near Latoria Road and Happy Valley Road excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve in order to host a new middle school and eventually an additonal elementary school. They also have land in Colwood earmarked for another elementary school, the location of which remains undisclosed.
Altogether, four new schools are planned for the near future.