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Back to school … closings

Labour Day weekend has come and gone and that means it’s back to school time. Or, more aptly in School District 57, school closing time.
wblock-logoAs students settle into their ABCs, trustees will be sharpening their calculators and trying to figure out how to “pick the low hanging fruit.”
The Cascades Facilities Management report, released in the spring, made several recommendations. The most grandiose of those recommendations was to lobby the provincial government to build a large school (or renovate and existing one) in the south part of the city. The idea is to roll Blackburn Elementary, Pineview Elementary, Buckhorn Elementary and Hixon Elementary into one school.
In 2013-14, the four schools had a combined enrolment of 507 students, so a new school would have to be big enough for that many students.
Blackburn, with a capacity of 275 students, and Pineview, with a capacity of 205 students, are the most likely candidates for a renovation plan. Pineview probably gets the edge because it is more central to the area served by the four schools, although it was built in 1953 (Blackburn was built in 1967). Both are old schools in need of repair, so a new school probably the best course of action.
That, however, requires the provincial approval. It’s not going to be an easy road.
The Cascades Facilities Management report also recommends getting rid of surplus properties. The report lists 18 such properties … everything from vacant land next to Blackburn Elementary to Central Fort George, which was closed a few years ago.
Selling off property not being used by the school district anymore is one way to help the bottom line (however selling assets only creates a one-time injection of funds and does little to help the ongoing problem to the province shearing the tree and then telling us to pick the low-hanging fruit).
It’s too bad the report only looked at the ‘surplus’ properties because the school district is sitting on one of the most valuable pieces of property in Prince George.
The old BC Tel building, which now houses the district administration offices, is located on the corner of Highway 16 and Ferry Avenue. If the school district really wanted to raise some cash, they could put that large chunk of land on the market. I’m sure a car dealership, or two, would jump at the opportunity, or a strip mall developer, or whatever. It wouldn’t sit on the market too long and would fetch a pretty penny.
As for the administration offices, why not move them into one of the ‘surplus’ schools? The old Central Fort George school would be a great location for the district office. If that isn’t large enough, then perhaps Blackburn would make a great spot … it certainly has enough room.
When the district is faced with the extremely difficult decision of closing schools, there should be no sacred cows. Every possibility should be looked at. We’ve closed school after school and yet the administration office remains the same size it was before all the schools closed.
The Cascades Facilities Management report contains ‘facilities conditions indexes’ for each school in the district along with a report on where they are in terms of capacity. Maybe a similar report should be conducted for the administration office.


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