The trustees of School District No. 74 (SD74) have voted to dispose of the former Ashcroft Elementary school property for a “nominal fee” to the Ashcroft HUB Society, but there are still questions surrounding the future of the property.
At its meeting on March 2, the board of education passed a motion which originally read “That the board of education support disposal of the property through a sale or transfer in fee simple for a nominal fee to the Ashcroft HUB Society.” An amendment continues “and that staff provide further information at the April board meeting about possible considerations to ensure that taxpayers and the Board’s interests are maintained in a disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary School property.”
Trustees Larry Casper (Rural Area A, Lillooet), Carmen Ranta (Rural Area D, Cache Creek), and Orra Storkan (District of Lillooet) voted in favour of the motion. Co-chairs Valerie Adrian (Rural Area B, Lillooet) and Nancy Rempel (Rural Area C, Clinton) voted against, and trustee Donna Aljam (Rural Area E, Lytton) abstained. Trustee Vicky Trill (Village of Ashcroft) recused herself from the discussion and vote, as she is the executive director of the Ashcroft HUB.
Juanita Little, president of the HUB Society, said that she’s feeling unsettled after the decision.
“There’s no clear timeline, and there’s still a question of process. There’s no definition of what a ‘nominal fee’ is. How much will it be, where does the process go, what does that look like?”
The former school property has been operating as the Ashcroft HUB since it closed as a school in June 2015. In August of that year a number of community volunteers formed the Ashcroft HUB Society, and have been leasing the site from SD74 since then, maintaining it as a community centre for a variety of groups and activities. When the decision to discuss property disposal was made in January 2021, the society was nearly halfway through a nine year lease with the district.
At its Jan. 5 meeting, the board of education voted to begin the property disposal process for the former school. SD74 secretary treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet said that during the community consultation process, which ended on Feb. 19, 145 people responded to an online survey about the property’s future, 45 letters were received, and there were three meetings between the board and interested parties (a community public forum, the HUB Society, and the Village of Ashcroft mayor and council).
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the HUB and the work of the HUB Society. Thirty-five per cent of respondents indicated they favoured a transfer to the Ashcroft HUB Society for no fee, $1, or fair market value; 35 per cent indicated support for the Ashcroft HUB Society remaining at the property but did not give a preference; 20 per cent said the current lease should be honoured or a lease of more than 10 years should be entered into; and 10 per cent said the property should be sold to the highest bidder or that the entire process should be delayed.
Casper made the initial motion, while Ranta proposed the amendment. She cited the disposal of Copper Vale School in Ashcroft in the 1990s, which was subsequently developed as the Villa Fronterra property.
“That property became commercialized, even though the board did not get fair price for the property as the board did not expect it would become commercial and people would make money,” she said. “I want to make sure the same situation doesn’t occur for this board.
“It’s our duty as a board to support the community, and I totally support them, but I do think that our interests as a board must be considered, so that accidental commercialization comes back to the school district. If we sell it at a nominal price to the HUB Society I want to make sure it’s in the agreement that the board get the property back if they want to dispose of it, and that the board would retain the right to be able to sell the property for fair market value to keep as many dollars as possible for our students. I feel we don’t have all the information and reassurances we as a board require to do this correctly.”
Casper said that he had reviewed all the information submitted by the public. “I believe we have set a precedent by transferring properties for good purposes. I believe that the HUB Society has the full support of the broad community, and good services and programs.
“It’s in a place that does have market value, but for the benefit of the HUB Society and for sustainability I would vote to transfer it for a nominal fee so the society is not under pressure to come up with a large amount.”
The most recent assessed value of the property puts its value at $4 million. However, Minnabarriet explained that market value is based on what the market will bear, so could be different to the assessed value.
She also explained that the motion, if passed, would require approval from the Ministry of Education, and that a number of documents — including a formal appraisal — would have to be submitted with the proposal. “It’s normally a pretty straightforward process, but of course something could come up.”
Rempel asked for an appraisal of the building to be done before the next board of education meeting on April 6.
She then said that while she “totally loves” the HUB and what they do, she believed that the main responsibility of the board was to the learners and the entire district. “I don’t see how turning over a property for a nominal fee benefits these other communities in any way, shape, or form. We don’t have vast amounts of money. It’s a community HUB and they need to look to local and regional governments for funding and put the property up for fair market value.
“It’s the fair way to do this. I cannot see turning over potentially thousands of dollars to the HUB Society when our students could use the money for other things. We act on behalf of all students in the district and I don’t believe we are, so I will not support this motion.”
Adrian said that some SD74 properties in Lillooet went up for sale and got good prices. “Those funds were used for our students. I’m having trouble with this. We all love the HUB and want to help the HUB Society and the community, but we really do have to consider students in the Ashcroft area. I feel we’re putting the cart before the horse here, and we need more information like appraised value and market value. If it’s $4 million do we expect the HUB Society to raise $4 million?”
Adrian added that although First Nations such as the Ashcroft Indian Band had written in support of the HUB Society, their attitude might change and they might be interested if the property was available for sale. “The Inland Port will need buildings for the work they do, so can we get fair market value? We don’t know.”
Casper was the final speaker, and said he thought he was promoting the best option.
“It’s a win/win. I’m also open to looking at market value, and opening it up to potential commercial applications. We’re looking at $4 million potentially, but I suspect it won’t be that much. I’m supporting the broad interests of the community and the services and programs at the HUB. I hear you on the potential of raising $3 to $4 million for the rest of the district, but am willing to support the HUB.”
After the meeting, Little said she understands that the board wants to make sure funds go toward education, but questioned the purpose of the community consultation.
“They asked the community to decide what to do, and the community overwhelmingly said the property should go to the HUB. The consultations showed the value of the HUB providing so many services for the community, and this also contributes to the education of the communities.
“Now all the talk is about money, money, money. It was supposed to be based on community consultation. It was taxpayers’ money that bought [the property], and they aren’t saying ‘Give it back to education’, they’re saying let the HUB Society use it. Disposal is not about making money; it’s about considering the community.”
More discussion about the motion is expected to take place at the April 6 board of education meeting.