(Photo credit Lorne Eckersley)

Home to HomeLinks, Wildflower and early childhood services to close

Proceeds from a sale would not likely be used in the Creston Valley, with other schools in the West Kootenay being more in need of upgrades.

Using language that sounds more celebratory than solemn, School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) has announced a June closure of the grand experiment that became the Creston Education Centre more than a decade ago.

“The Board of Education is pleased to announce a final decision has been made in regards to the Creston Education Centre,” a press release issued yesterday said. “The Creston Education Centre will officially close on Friday, June 29.”

CEC is home to the HomeLinks and Wildflower alternate school programs and an array of early childhood development programs, including Strong Start, Family Place, Pregnancy Outreach, Dots to Tots, Little Chefs and others. In addition, it has provided office space for itinerant school district professionals, which include a full-time school psychologist, half-time speech-language pathologist, half-time physiotherapist, (.4) occupational therapist and (.75) speech-language assistant.

It also housed the Creston technology department, which has already moved to the Creston Operations (commonly known as the Bus Garage) on Northwest Boulevard.

“HomeLinks Creston and Wildflower Creston (will move) to Prince Charles Senior Secondary (PCSS) and/or surrounding district-owned properties on the PCSS block,” according to the announcement. “A transition plan is in the works and more information will be available shortly.”

The itinerant professionals will be accommodated at PCSS as well.

“A decommissioning plan for Creston Education Centre, involving the exact details and logistics of the move, will be announced to students, staff, and families in coming weeks,” the release adds. “Celebrations at the end of the year at CEC and welcoming to students to their new locations will take place at all sites.”

The announcement comes more than two years after School District No. 8 embarked on a lengthy process to evaluate its facilities in the face of declining enrollment.

During that process, numerous staff, parents, and residents argued on behalf of the CEC, the former South Creston Elementary School, which had become a unique umbrella for a wide range of programs to prepare families and their children for entry into the school system. Creston Valley has traditionally ranked poorly in children’s readiness for school in studies.

Parents of students in HomeLinks, a support program for home-school families, and Wildflower, an alternate school program, have consistently argued that they do not want their children in a traditional school, least of all in a secondary school.

Hundreds of families have utilized of the early childhood programs, operated primarily by Valley Community Services, and benefited from the easy access to the psychologist, speech-language pathologist, physiotherapist and occupational therapist.

CEC was a collaboration of School District No. 8 and Creston service providers, who envisioned the benefits of offering a variety of services and programs under a single roof.

“We will be working over the coming weeks to minimize the impact this will have on families who access services integrated at the CEC,” Justine Keirn, executive director of Valley Community Services said in response to the announced closure. “We will also be working to raise funds to secure a suitable location for our programming by the closure date to minimize disruption of service delivery.”

Keirn was part of a group that included local elected officials that has spent nearly a year trying to find a way to keep CEC open and maintains all of the existing programs operating within. Those efforts have not been abandoned, she said.

The school district created an uproar more than a year ago when it listed the CEC building and property on BC Bid, a provincial website, inviting proposals for the purchase of the property, rather than negotiating directly with the current tenants. While no offers were received, it is reported that a local person was on the site this week, taking measurements and asking about current programs.

The reported asking price for the CEC property is $550,000. Proceeds from a sale would not likely be used in the Creston Valley, with other schools in the West Kootenay being more in need of upgrades.

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