Silver Valley residents were celebrating a victory on Tuesday night, because Blaney Hamlet might one day have a school.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education is no closer to building an elementary school on the site at 23103 – 136th Avenue, but nor has the land been turned over to residential development.
Maple Ridge council refused to start the approval process for a rezoning bylaw to allow a developer to build some 30 houses there. Councillors instead referred the issue back to the school board, asking for clarification of its plans for future schools.
“I think we’re relieved,” said Silver Valley resident Nicole Read. “We’re happy to have a bit of breathing room now.
“It’s a huge win for us – just having it as a possibility and having the opportunity for public input.”
She said one member of the Silver Valley residents group was in tears after council’s decision.
“It’s very emotional for people, because you’re talking about their children.”
Read has been a leader in this citizens’ lobby, as she set up a Facebook page, started a petition, canvassed her neighbours door-to-door, spoke in person to both the school district and municipality, and was twice on the Bill Good Show on CKNW Radio.
She will continue to lobby the school board for a transparent process that involves input from residents. And, she will ask the provincial government why it has no process to purchase land communities have set aside for schools, given that the province funds three quarters of new school construction.
“We’re not taking our foot off the gas, by any means,” Read said.
She acknowledges the school district has said it needs only two elementary school sites for Silver Valley, where city staff had three in their plans. And, the Blaney Hamlet site could still be the odd one out.
However, she said at least the school district will have the opportunity to undertake a well-thought-out facility study that allows for public input.
School board chair Mike Murray said the district had been planning to conduct a district-wide facilities review this year, to determine the number of schools needed over the coming years. There will be some public consultation during that process.
He explained the board made a decision about the Blaney site earlier this year, because in October 2012 district hall asked whether it was needed for a school.
“It was put to us to either buy it, or lose it.”
He said the education ministry does not fund new schools until they are ready to be built, and the board does not have the financial means to purchase land without provincial money.
“A new elementary school in Silver Valley could be a long way into the future,” noted a report the school board produced in response to the question.
Municipal planners had proposed three elementary schools in Silver Valley – one in each of Blaney, Forest and Horse Hamlets, and a secondary school in River Village. Now the district says it will need only two elementary schools in the area, and may not need a high school.
Mayor Ernie Daykin said council’s decision Tuesday gives the school board a chance to review its needs without being pressured.
“I’m hopeful everyone can relax and breathe a little bit. It gives the school time to do their review,” he said.
“This gives them the opportunity to look at that site in the context of the whole district – but we may get the same response.”
Daykin noted municipal hall could face a legal challenge from the would-be developer to remove the civic designation from the property in its plans. Campton Services, represented by Joel Lycan, is the owner.
Daykin acknowledged Lycan has been patient with council, but noted the issue could be resolved in a matter of months.
“The challenge is that our decisions impact the community for 10, 20 or 50 years.”