The Greater Victoria School District’s challenging Boundary Catchment Review process has taken another turn as trustees will now consider reopening the century-old Bank Street school and former Sundance elementary.
SD61 continues to own the two buildings which share a tract of land on Bank Street in Victoria, near the border with Oak Bay. Should the trustees opt to reopen the two schools it would mean bumping two tenants out, as the proposal is to combine the two schools as one, with space for about 200 students.
The historic brick Bank building is leased to the Victoria College of Art and since 2015 the Sundance building has housed École Beausoleil, an arts-based elementary school in the French school district, Conseil Scolaire Francophone de la Colombie-Britannique.
If the board says yes to reopening the schools the district would proceed with giving notice to the current tenants, said secretary treasurer Mark Walsh.
“We have a great deal of respect for [Beausoleil], they’re a public school as well and we’ll be looking for ways to have a minimal impact on them,” said Walsh. “It depends on the board’s final decision.”
SD61 closed the once-popular Sundance alternative elementary school in 2015 in order to maintain a balanced budget. Its 58 students dispersed around the district.
Fast forward five years and SD61 is projecting an increase of about 1,800 students in the next decade. Some schools are overcrowded such as Willows and George Jay. SD61’s population is currently about 20,000 students. That number has been as high as 30,000 in the 1970s and as low as 17,500 a decade ago. The result was a lot of slack in school spaces until recently. That slack has now been filled to make for room the intense growth in the Victoria core population, coupled with the extra 100 classes added in SD61 following the Supreme Court decision limiting class sizes.
The district introduced the Boundary Catchment Review in November and brought a proposal to reallocate the student population in January as it believes it has the spaces to adequately address the crunch it’s facing.
The historic Bank Street school building wasn’t included on the initial proposal because it will need an estimated $5 million worth of seismic upgrades and renovation. Sundance wasn’t included because its capacity is 109 and because Beausoleil already serves 90 students. However, in February SD61 trustees voted to protect Victor School and removed it from the proposal. Instead, they asked district staff to bring forward alternative solutions.
Among those are reopening Bank and Sundance as a combined school. There’s also a suggestion to build a new elementary school in the core area of Victoria (although the Ministry of Education turned down SD61’s most recent proposal to do that last year, Walsh said). Another suggestion is to build a new facility for the 16 children at Victor School. It has space for 151 students and the district could reinstate the Victor borders it drew up in the January Boundary Catchment Review before Victor was removed.
Either way, the options will cost millions, according to the April 23 SD61 report.
“Bank can’t open [as a public school] in its current state, which is an incredibly bad state,” Walsh said. “There will be discussions about proceeding as it will be around $5 million just for that small building, which needs seismic and significant upgrades.”
Walsh also suggests the schools might be connected to add extra space. Bank currently has four classrooms upstairs and one or two could be created in the basement. Sundance has office space and four classrooms.
Rebecca Mellett is the president of the Beausoleil parent advisory council and said the parents are highly upset with the news they might lose their location.
The lease is officially up in July 2020, though SD61 plans to have a decision within a month.
“Our parents are besides themselves upset,” said Mellett, whose seven-year-old son Natnael attends the school. “We were only informed through the press that the district is considering moving back in. In the English system and French system our kids are as important as any other kid in B.C.”
Beausoleil started as a pilot through Victor Brodeur in 2015 but then went through the process of becoming its own school and has grown from 15 to 90 students registered for September 2019. Displacing it doesn’t make any sense, Mellett said.
“We are a positive presence in the community and we plan to stand up for ourselves,” Mellett added. “This is important for the [Francophone] population, as a community it is dispersed and this school brings it together. Where are they going to go?”