At its next meeting, the board of trustees of School District No. 74 (Gold Trail) will be discussing the process surrounding the disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary School property, which has been operating as the Ashcroft HUB since August 2015.
Item 7.8 on the Jan. 5 regular meeting agenda is “Property Disposal Process–former Ashcroft Elementary School”. Background information notes that the board of SD74 has, over the last several years, reviewed surplus properties that are no longer required for educational purposes and disposed of properties to allow funding and staffing to be focused on schools that are open. Since 2013, nine properties have been disposed of.
SD74 secretary-treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet says that every year the board goes through a process of looking at properties that are no longer being used for school purposes.
“We’ve done this for many years. We have a three-year plan around what happens in the district around disposal, to make sure that resources are going to support school programs. Ashcroft Elementary hasn’t been used for several years as a school, so it was added to the plan last year to start the process in this school year.”
Ashcroft Elementary ceased operating as a school in June 2015. In August of that year a group of volunteers representing what they called the Ashcroft HUB announced plans to turn the building into a multi-purpose centre for community user groups, to avoid the prospect of a derelict building and to provide services for the community.
“Closed schools devalue the neighbourhood and are targets for vandalism,” Ashcroft HUB Society president Juanita Little told Ashcroft council at their meeting on Aug. 24, 2015. “By repurposing AES immediately, the community can avoid the pitfalls of an abandoned building.” She said that the mandate of the HUB was “to keep the doors of the building open, to provide accessible, affordable space for clubs, groups and small entrepreneurs, and support programming or events that build social connectedness through opportunities in wellness, recreation and the arts.”
Little says that the society initially signed a one-year lease agreement with SD74, with the HUB responsible for heating and electricity costs, as well as snow removal, while SD74 would maintain the grounds.
“We wanted to focus [in the first year] on where do we go and how do we do that. We needed to be viable and get up and running, then see if we were able to do more moving forward with the building.”
The HUB and SD74 are currently in the middle of a nine-year lease agreement. Over the last five years the society has carried out many improvements to the interior and exterior of the building, including new doors and lighting, painting, landscaping, and changes to various rooms to accommodate a daycare, fitness and dance classes, a full-service gym, musicians, non-profit and community organizations, entrepreneurs, and more.
Little says that they had no idea the district would be considering the site’s future until the society received a phone call from the SD74 office on Dec. 10, and were told that the disposal process for the former elementary school was going to be on the agenda for the Jan. 5 open meeting.
“We knew this conversation would come one day; we’re just a bit surprised that it’s coming now,” she says. “They didn’t say why it was coming up at this time, just that there are processes and they wanted to make us aware the item was on the agenda. My understanding is that the board may choose to dispose of it or not, and that no decisions have been made yet.”
The recommendation is that the Board of Education approve proceeding with a community consultation process on the possible disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary School. Minnabarriet says that the discussion on Jan. 5 will be the first one the board has had about the property since the decision last year to look at it in the 2020/21 school year.
She adds there “absolutely” could be a discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic and its stresses, the difficulty of holding public meetings at this time, and whether it is the right time to proceed with the disposal process. “We’re there for a discussion about next steps.”
The report in the agenda for the Jan. 5 meeting says that process would include hearing from local communities on the potential disposal. “It is recommended that the Board meet with local Indigenous communities and municipalities and hold a public meeting to gather input on this topic,” states the report.
It continues “It is likely that the meetings would occur via Zoom. A process to allow for written feedback to be submitted would also be available. The Board would then consider the community input when determining next steps in the disposal process. Approval from the Ministry of Education is required before the property can be disposed of or sold.”
“The HUB board has asked SD74 to postpone the discussion,” says Little. “Times are uncertain and discouraging for organizations, individuals, and communities, so we’re asking them to postpone this until we’re living in more certain and hopeful times so we can see what moving forward looks like.
“Everyone is struggling right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and public consultation is hard, because we’re asked not to meet or group together. It’s one more stress for the whole community, so can we delay this until it’s a better time for everyone to move forward in a better way.”
Little assures the community that the HUB will continue to provide its regular services for users while discussing options for the long term. More than 20 organizations and businesses are active with the HUB, which provides services for seniors, teen and kids’ day camps and activities, education workshops, certificate courses through Thompson Rivers University, fine arts, theatre, community events, the HUB Online Network, and a full range of wellness and health services, including fitness classes, zumba, yoga, dance, fitness support, and Merv’s Gym.
“We also have our Community Connections, which focuses on isolated and vulnerable people in our community. That’s really ramped up with COVID-19.”
Little adds that the HUB Society works well with the school district. “It’s been a good relationship, and we look forward to continuing to work with the district to keep the HUB operating. They could choose to continue with the disposal process or could choose not to. If it moves toward disposal then we will be looking for public input.”
Minnabarriet says that if/when the district moves forward with disposal, there are a variety of things the board could do with the property.
“Over the years we’ve done different things. Sometimes we’ve disposed of properties for mimimal amounts, sometimes for fair market value. There are many different factors, and there’s no cookie cutter approach. We look at things individually.
“No decision [about AES] has been made in advance; it’s just a process we’ve had in place for many years about closed schools. It’s such an unusual time, so the board has to consider what makes sense at this time.”
Little says that the HUB wants to continue a long time into the future and continue being a HUB for the community.
“The HUB exists because of community support, and we strongly encourage the community to actively reach out to our trustees to show your support for the HUB. Prior to the meeting, people, organizations, and user groups can send letters of support for the HUB via email or mail to trustees (please cc firstname.lastname@example.org), attend the board meeting on Jan. 5 via Zoom, and participate in community consultations should they arise.”
The Jan. 5 board meeting will start at 2 p.m., and members of the public can join the webinar by going to http://bit.ly/3at1mz2 (passcode 543064). You can also join by phone by dialling 1-778-907-2071 (webinar ID 689 5385 4523; passcode: 543064).
If a member of the public has a question(s) on a specific item of the agenda, they can contact secretary-treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet at email@example.com by 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 5, or through the chat feature prior to the start of the meeting. A question period will also be available at the end of the board meeting.