School District 74 trustees have accepted the recommendations by staff to close the elementary school buildings in Ashcroft and Lytton and create a K-12 school in the existing high schools.
“We would like to see Ashcroft Elementary stay open,” said Juanita Little, president of AES Parent Advisory Committee, addressing the trustees before they discussed the recommendations at their Sept. 17 open meeting. “If that isn’t possible, we are ready to move forward and look at the K-12 option.”
The recommendations were contained in a report written after last year’s Community Conversations which Gold Trail conducted around the region.
Chief Financial Officer Lynda Minnabarriet went through the 22 page report, The Future of Gold Trail Schools and Programs for the 45 or more members of the public who attended the meeting.
While Ashcroft Elementary’s enrolment is projected to increase slightly next year, it needs $5.7 million in renovations to bring it to modern standards. And while the high school’s enrolment is projected to decrease again, it has sufficient space to accommodate all Ashcroft students as it is currently operating at less than 20 per cent capacity.
Schools in Cache Creek and Gold Bridge were left alone to allow communities to keep at least one school operating.
Minnabarriet noted that Cache Creek Elementary would also allow Ashcroft parents the option of sending their children to an elementary-only if they wished.
Motion – Ashcroft Secondary be renovated into a K-12 school. Carried unanimously.
“I would just like to say that nobody likes the prospect of closing schools,” said Ashcroft trustee Christopher Roden, “particularly when it is in one’s own community. I think we have to realize with age and impending costs of improvements, we have to seriously look at this.”
Motion – Ashcroft Elementary be closed effective the transition of Ashcroft Secondary to a K-12 facility. Carried unanimously with the amendment that it be contingent on the previous motion.
“The community does want to see this done right,” said Roden – “ a top grade K-12. We would want to postpone opening if it’s not ready.”
Motion – A new elementary school be requested for the community of Lillooet as part of the five year capital plan. Carried unanimously.
Motion – George M. Murray and Cayoosh Elementary be closed upon the opening of the new school. Carried unanimously.
Motion – Kumsheen Secondary be renovated into a K-12 facility. Carried unanimously.
“I’d just like to reiterate what trustee Roden said, that no one likes to close a school,” said trustee Mavourneen Varcoe Ryan, who is responsible for Lytton. “But we have to enter into discussion first if we want to know why it won’t work.”
“I’m looking forward to getting into the communities to talk about the future of community schools,” said Lillooet trustee Valerie Adrian.
“This is a decision to look at possibilities, not necessarily closure,” said chair Carmen Ranta, trustee for Cache Creek.
The board has 60 days to prepare the community consultations. No dates have been given yet.
Facilities Manager Mitch van Aller presented his annual 5 Year Capital Plan to the board, which included $12,250,000 for the Lillooet elementary replacement, and $8,287,434 for Kumsheen renovations.
He said Ashcroft Secondary has had many upgrades over the past three years and he doesn’t feel it will require major work to turn the building into a K-12 facility. He said the 5 Year Capital Plan only includes projects that will cost $1.5 million or more.
The parents need more information, said PAC president Juanita Little after the meeting. What will the cost be of running the school, she asked. What would a K-12 look like? Another concern, she said “is how will the move to K-12 affect the staff? We have great teachers, principal and support staff, so we want to know will they move over with us? What does that look like?”
She said when the school board first broached the idea of closing the elementary and creating a K-12 school in Ashcroft, the parents were very upset.”
But since then, parents have heard that the district has only so much money to support its aging schools, and enrolment figures just don’t justify keeping the buildings open.
“It’s a real struggle,” she said.
In those two years, Clinton moved to a K-12 school, with the parents actively engaged in its planning.
Last year, said Little, elementary students attended the high school several times for concerts and special occasions like Remembrance Day, and the students all seemed to interact well.
“Once the consultation meetings are set,” she said, “we’ll discuss how to get information out to people, and gather data on what sort of questions they want answered. “We’ll encourage everyone to take part and do what’s best for the kids.”