School District 74 (Gold Trail) will move ahead with a community consultation process around the possible disposal of the Ashcroft Elementary School site.
Trustees agreed at their board meeting Tuesday to start the process, despite requests from the Ashcroft HUB Society to delay it until after the COVD-19 pandemic. The Hub is in its fourth year of a nine-lease of the school site, where it offers everything from community arts, dance and recreation programs to space for reunions, birthdays and retreats and room rentals
“We’re asking if the board would delay until we’re in more certain times to make sure Hub is part of the community for years and years and years to come,” said HUB society chair Juanita Little.
Several letters and emails, as well as a verbal plea from the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society Tuesday, supported the HUB’s request.
However, trustees maintain it is financially prudent to move ahead with the public consultation process, noting they have taken similar measures with other schools across the district. Since 2013, the board has disposed of nine properties across SD74 that are no longer being used for school purposes to allow funding and staffing to be focused on schools that are open. Ashcroft Elementary ceased operating as a school in June 2015.
SD74 secretary-treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet said staff will take the next few days to flesh out the consultation process but noted the board has a variety of options around what to do with the property, including sale and transfer to another party or a lease of 10 years or more, although this will require ministry approval.
“As a local trustee, I do want to see the HUB continue in a sustainable way over the long term,” trustee Carmen Ranta said. “For us as a school board and for me as a trustee, I believe our first priority is education and students. As a board, we need to be equitable across the district and at this time I believe that equity is important to financially maintain the entire school district and district funds and money should be focused on the children that are in our schools.
“I believe we can do a good consultation process and come up with what is hopefully a winning solution for all parties involved.”
Little noted that HUB is already providing a lot of services to students in the Ashcroft area, noting many use Merv’s Fitness for physical education or HUB space for grad photos, teen nights, or babysitting and art programs. She added the HUB has grown significantly over the past five years, making a lot of improvements to the building, and continues to add services, such as a COVID-19 hotline for 20 different agencies that provide food clothing, shelter and wellness from Clinton to Spences Bridge.
Trish Schachtel, of the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society, said HUB stepped up last year when her agency saw a quadrupling of both food and users during the pandemic. It not only offered space for food storage but rooms for client meetings and supervised visits, which now require physical distancing.
“I would love a little bit of extension because I’m quite frantic if we’re going to have to start looking for other space,” Schachtel said.
Little added they are already fielding questions from the public who are not getting memberships because of the possibility HUB may shut down.
SD74 Board co-chair Nancy Rempel noted it will likely take a year or two to go through the process and urged HUB to let people know it is still operating.
“It’s not closing tomorrow. This is a process that’s going to take time,” she said. “It’s not a done deal yet. This is the beginning of a very long process. We are just starting a conversation.”