The fate of the Blueberry Creek Community School property is still unknown.
School District 20 held a consultation meeting Monday night to discuss the disposal of the property and at least 225 people showed up to express their views and listen to suggestions from the district.
The atmosphere was one of determination as most people present were there to show support for the proposal put forward by the Blueberry Creek Community School Council (BCCS) to purchase the building for $1.
Superintendent of Schools Greg Luterbach presented a history of the school and the process that must be followed to dispose of it. The building has not been used as a school since 2002. There was little enthusiasm heard from the crowd as he presented the options the board was considering.
Those options include demolishing the building, subdividing the property and selling a portion, or selling the building at full market value to BBCS or on the open market.
When Luterbach mentioned they will also consider ideas presented at the meeting, including one to be put forward by BCCS the room erupted with applause and cheers.
Along with their proposal, BCCS presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures of supporters. BCCS is a non-profit society that has been responsible for the finances and maintenance of the site through a lease agreement with SD 20. BCCS is currently providing educational, childcare, social and recreational programs at the site.
Their services range from preschool programs to seniors activities. During the 2012/2013 academic year 1,966 participants were registered in programs offered at the school. This resulted in 20,644 visits to the school.
In order to accurately gauge which proposals the community supported, the board used a system they called “Dot-mocracy”. Each option the board was considering was placed on the wall along with a space for other proposals. Each person was given two red stickers to place on the options they were in favour of. The exercise was probably unnecessary as the majority of board options remained empty and the BCCS proposal required extra pages to hold all of the red dots cast in support.
Board chair Darrel Ganzert acknowledged, “The results are awfully clear as to what the wishes are.”
When it was the crowd’s turn to speak, several long-time residents of the community brought up that the school board had originally obtained the land as a gift from Blueberry resident Richard Goppe.
Ron MacIntyre stated, “When he gave this property to the school board in the early 1960s, he requested that if the school board did not use this property as a school or for school functions it would revert to the people of Blueberry Creek.”
The school board was questioned by several speakers as to why the BBCS proposal was not one of the ideas that the board itself put forward.
Board Chair Darrel Ganzert responded, “At the time the options were being considered, we had looked at what our policies suggest. Fair market value is what the policies suggest.”
Speaker after speaker expressed support for BCCS. On behalf of the Castlegar Early Childhood Council, Penny Tees presented a letter to the board expressing its strong support for the BCCS proposal.
No representatives of Castlegar City Council were present as there was a previously scheduled city council meeting. However, they did send a letter of support for the BCCS proposal.
The letter stated, “We specifically ask that, further to this end, you strongly consider disposing of the Blueberry site to the responsible stewardship of the BCCS Council.” The letter further stated that Council has no current intention to rezone the property as its present zoning reflects Castlegar’s Official Community Plan.
When the meeting wrapped up two and a half hours after it began, no one had voiced support for any of the options put forward by the board and only one person had voiced support for an alternative plan of an extended, 50 year lease for BCCS.
BCCS board member and community liaison Rebecca McDonnell expressed their thoughts on the meeting, “We are very pleased about the turn out tonight. It is really heartwarming to see our community who have always been vocal and supportive… It is affirming to see the community we serve actually coming out and fighting for what really is essentially their legacy and their right.”
In response to a question about how the board will respond she stated, “We are hoping with the public sentiment and that they know all the economical, health and social benefits that this society provides for both the school district and the community in general. They have the information to make an accurate decision; we are hopeful that they do that.”
The board will meet again Monday, October 27 and will discuss the future of the school at that time. Whatever decision the board makes will have to be approved by the Minister of Education.