Residents wants reprieve on school site

People in Silver Valley want the school board to rethink its decision not to buy the property on 136th Avenue and build a school.

Nicole Read wants a school built in Silver Valley.

If a neighbourhood has no school, it has no heart, so the people in Silver Valley want the school board to rethink its decision not to buy the property on 136th Avenue and eventually build the first school in the suburb.

“We want them to undertake a full facility study that they will do over the course of the next year,” Silver Valley resident Nicole Read said Wednesday.

“We say, ‘Go, let’s do the study first and then make a decision.’

“And then let’s decide, which site to keep and which site to let go.”

She was commenting before the group Action Silver Valley made a pitch to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board Wednesday.

About 25 people urged the board, to no response, to keep the site identified as the Blaney hamlet school property.

Read told trustees that many school kids now are forced to walk an unsafe route along narrow 232nd Street to Yennadon elementary and called the parking lot at that school “incredibly unsafe” for pedestrians.

Trustees limited the time of the presentation, and reluctantly allowed just one other member of the delegation to comment.

The school board told the District of Maple Ridge recently that it won’t buy the site at 23103 – 136th Ave. because of declining enrolment and the uncertainty of provincial funding.

Buying the property wouldn’t guarantee that provincial money, which would cover 65 per cent of the construction costs, would be available, the school district said.

That prompted Maple Ridge council, in January, to begin the rezoning process to allow the property owner to build homes and condos on it.

But Read points out that the school district still plans in the next year to do a facility study to identify what new schools should be built where.

She agrees waiting for the study would mean more delays for the property owner, who wants to develop the property or sell it, but says that the study could be done in half a year and that the owner has already been waiting a long time.

Read told the board she was concerned about the lack of transparency in the decision not to acquire the site, that there was insufficient public consultation, and that not having a school there undermines the area plan.

But shortly before Wednesday’s meeting, the school board responded to Read’s points with a seven-page news release, saying that discussions around sale of land are normally done in closed meetings.

It also points out that a school site usually runs between $2.5 to $4 million, while the reserve account for all school site purchases only has $2.2 million.

“School districts cannot afford to purchase news school sites or to build new schools without substantial financial help from the Ministry of Education … ”

In the last dozen years, the school district has had to close five schools (Thornhill, Meadowland, Maple Ridge Primary, Riverside and Mount Crescent) because of declining enrolment, and a subsequent decline in government funding, it pointed out.

The decision not to buy the property and build a school conflicts with the District of Maple Ridge’s official community plan, says Read.

“Homes were purchased based on this plan,” she said.

“With no school there, we have no other options for our kids getting off this hill.

“We’re pretty upset, as a community.”

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