The public is invited to give their thoughts on a design for a new Walnut Park Elementary, if the Ministry of Education decides to fund it. (Marisca Bakker photo)

New Walnut Park school closer to reality

SD54 starts planning while waiting for the Ministry of Education's formal approval.

There will be an announcement with Education Minister Rob Fleming, Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson, Bulkley Valley School District 54 (SD54) staff and trustees, and students at Walnut Elementary Thursday morning on, as the Province media release describes it, “supporting students in Smithers.”

Despite not yet having the green light from the Ministry of Education, SD54 was getting all its ducks in a row to build a new school last week.

About 20 people showed up to the public consultation for a new design of Walnut Park Elementary last Thursday evening. Teachers, parents and other users were given a chance to give their thoughts on a new school proposal and provide input into design concepts, educational and community space.

KMBR Architects Planners Inc. was on hand to seek input from users and the public and to see what their vision is for the facility.

“This is part of the consolation process we are engaging in now,” said architect Witmar Abele. “We have to complete a process called programming; this is basically fine tuning the number of spaces and sizes and how the overall building area that is allowed by the Ministry of Education is actually distributed throughout the school.”

The plan is build a new school on part of the site that is free right now. The existing school will remain in operation until the new building is done and then the old will be demolished once the new is operational.

Secretary treasurer Dave Margerm added the school district has been asking for a new building for over 10 years now. The school is over 50 years old and is sitting on unstable land.

While SD54 doesn’t have the final approval from the Ministry of Education, the Province has asked them to start the design and public consultation process.

“Basically, we are just trying to get this approval system started because we are bound by construction. We want to start construction at a certain time, not in the middle of winter.”

Margerm added they are finding a balance between getting the process started and getting formal approval.

“There isn’t a lot of cost generated [from the consolation process.] The timeline and the project we’ve submitted to the government is to probably, hopefully start the building process this spring,” he said. “We want to start in the spring, so we can have the summer and fall months to build the structure. So in order to start in the spring, we have to start as soon as possible.”

The school would cost about an estimated $28 million. The Ministry pays for almost all of it with the school district pitching in about $900,000, which will come from it’s surplus.

Margerm is hoping to hear a yes or a no from the Ministry “very soon.”

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