Coast Mountains School District students could be firing up welding torches at Thornhill Jr. Secondary School as early as September if the district’s plan to convert the closed school into a trades training centre comes about.
A training centre is the focal point of a district trades master plan and Feb. 19, the Coast Mountains school board began the first official steps towards the new use for the property, which could see cosmetology and welding courses as early as this September.
The school building will now become the Northwest Regional Trades and Employment Training Centre.
Carpentry, culinary arts and heavy equipment operator training would follow by 2018 with adult education and online correspondence courses making up part of the plan.
“It’s a living document,” said Coast Mountains school district superintendent Katherine McIntosh of the strategic plan, which is laid out in three stages, and leaves room for shifting trends. “It sets the direction where the board wants to go, but it leaves things open,” she said, by providing a blueprint for staff to get on the ground and talk to the community and potential partners “to really define what the programs are going to look like.”
The strategic plan itself comes out of a study financed through a $123,000 grant from Enbridge Northern Gateway and conducted by the Powell River Educational Services Society, an offshoot of the Powell River school district where McIntosh worked before moving here. The study is framed around the current and potential location in the region of a number of large industrial projects, including liquefied natural gas plants and the gas pipelines that would supply them, oil pipelines and a refinery, and of the prospect of training northwestern residents for subsequent employment.
Presented to the board last month, the study cost less than the district initially thought it would, and the district voted last week to spend the remaining $45,000 on putting the plan in place. McIntosh explained that could mean more consultation along the way.
The board is now working on what work is needed to convert the closed school into a training centre and then find the money for the project.
“We have to figure those costs out now,” she said. “Our secretary treasurer and director of facilities are currently working on that, and that process is to get estimates from a variety of interested companies,” she said. “We have capital funds that have funding available for that purpose.”
While the Thornhill location would be the program’s home base, plan documents show that mobile training units could eventually be used all over the district– another aspect district staff are currently looking into, said McIntosh.
Although closed, Thornhill Junior’s gym has been used by recreational groups. A rough plan included in the study shows that the gym would be converted into shop space.
Classroom and other space is leased to the Piping Industry College of B.C., a trades union-guided institution which offers specialized trades training in a number of areas. McIntosh said the district is negotiating work with PIC and similar groups who could provide instruction.
Plan documents indicate the school district would work in concert with any number of agencies offering trades training, including Northwest Community College.
“We haven’t even spoken to industry yet,” said McIntosh. “We’re finding that there are more potential partnerships out there that we thought.”
The Grade 8-10 junior secondary school was closed in June 2012 as a result of the general decline in student population which began in the last decade.
In a large-scale shift of student populations in Terrace and Thornhill, Grade 10 was added to Grades 11 and 12 at Caledonia Secondary and Grades 8-10 Skeena Junior Secondary became a middle school of Grades 7-9 when Grade 7 was moved out of area elementary schools.
Student enrolment was down last year and one of the reasons pointed to by the district in explaining the decline was a lack of affordable housing.
With the potential for more students moving into the district to attend the trades school, a sub-committee will monitor student housing issues and other potential problem issues and make recommendations to the board in January 2016.
“When our trustees looked at that recommendation, they want the subcommittee to go beyond just housing,” said McIntosh, noting that it will look at transportation and potential financial barriers as well.