Public school closures are a sad but all too common reality of modern day British Columbia. Since 2002, 240 public schools have been closed across the province. Courtenay’s École Puntledge Park Elementary is set to become the latest on this long list, with the Comox Valley School District voting on the proposed closure on March 15th. But when you dig beneath the surface you realize that this is not your garden variety school closure. It makes no sense from a child safety, student enrolment or capital expenditure standpoint. When you get to the bottom of it, the only reason you are left with is greed.
Two main reasons are usually given when schools are closed: low enrolments and buildings that require significant capital upgrades. Neither of these factors applies to the proposed closure of Puntledge Park Elementary. In fact, from both perspectives, logic would dictate that it should not be the school on the chopping block.
A recent BC Government review of the seismic risk to public schools found Puntledge Park Elementary to not be at high risk in the event of an earthquake. Built on a single level, the report concluded that the building may suffer “isolated damage” with “non-structural elements (such as bookshelves, lighting) at risk of failure”. However, the Comox Valley School District is proposing to close the school and relocate the students to the nearby Lake Trail Middle School. The same report found Lake Trail to be at “high risk of widespread damage or structural failure; likely not reparable after event”. In fact Lake Trail will likely require several million to seismically retrofit.
Why are they proposing moving kids from a perfectly safe school to one that is high risk and in need of significant capital upgrades? It isn’t to do with student capacity issues. With over 450 students, Puntledge Park Elementary is currently at 96 per cent of capacity, and modeling shows it to be at or close to capacity for many years to come.
It hardly makes sense economically either. Lake Trail Middle School was built for teenagers and will need to be renovated so that toilets, wash basins, water fountains, bench heights and playgrounds are suitable for elementary-aged children. Lake Trail has insufficient classrooms so they are proposing renovating the gymnasium into kindergarten classrooms, complete with 30-foot high ceilings and without windows. In several years when it comes time to seismically retrofit Lake Trail, they will need to find temporary classrooms for the displaced students at great cost and inconvenience. Puntledge Park Elementary was built for elementary aged kids and meets their needs perfectly.
So when you eliminate the most likely reasons, the only answer you are left with is greed. Puntledge Park Elementary is situated in one of the most picturesque settings that you could imagine, surrounded by forest and a salmon bearing stream. It may be the only school in BC (or Canada for that matter) with a salmon bearing stream right on the school grounds. This access to nature provides a peaceful and unparalleled learning environment. Unfortunately for the kids, it also means that the land is likely worth a mint to developers. The School District has not outlined what they plan to do with the Puntledge Park site, so in their absence we are left to fill in the blanks.
I do not wish to advocate for the closure of Lake Trail Middle School. Our public schools are too valuable to let go. In fact there has been a very good proposal put forward by parents to repurpose Lake Trail School for alternative arts, technology, nature, and trades based education. However, we simply can’t allow the School District to move our kids into an unsafe building at great capital expense, when the alternative, leaving them in their school which is much loved and meeting their needs, makes so much more sense. Please support us by attending the Town Hall Meeting at Puntledge Park Elementary on Tuesday March 8th at 6:30pm and telling the School Board to vote no to the closure on March 15th.
Aconcerned parent of a student at École Puntledge Park Elementary.