The provincial government has denied a request by an Okanagan school district to replace a 70-year-old middle school in Kelowna, a decision that’s left some in the community frustrated.
Marie Howell, the president of Rutland Middle School’s parent advisory council, says the school has a number of issues.
Howell, who has two children in the school, says about 550 students attend the school but there is only one set of bathrooms each for girls and boys, with two more toilets in the gym.
The school has 11 portables — temporary structures used to create extra classroom capacity — with more expected on site.
Accessibility is a major problem, Howell said. The library, the art and band classrooms, and the auditorium, all require the use of stairs which render the spaces inaccessible for anyone in a wheelchair or with other physical limitations.
Then there’s the smell.
“Our school, because of its age, has quite the unique smell to the point,” Howell said. “Even trustees have noticed that smell when they walk in.”
Seismic upgrades, growth prioritized
In his rejection letter to School District No. 23 (Central Okanagan), Education Minister Rob Fleming said the government has prioritized new schools and additions in districts experiencing high growth, and accelerating seismic upgrade projects to make schools seismically safe as soon as possible.
Rutland Middle School doesn’t meet those priorities, the minister said.
Fleming also pointed out four new schools were built in the Central Okanagan School Board area since 2007 to address growth in the area.
Moyra Baxter, the board’s chair, said she understands Howell’s frustrations.
“I can’t disagree with anything that she raises as an issue at Rutland Middle School,” Baxter told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker.
Baxter says the board has been looking at replacing the property for 10 years, but discussions have gone back and forth between the board and the province with different ideas how the school could be replaced.
Rebuttal letter in works
For Baxter, however, the growth in the Rutland area is comparable to that of Surrey’s in the Lower Mainland where nearly 300 portables were in use in 2017.
It’s something she said the board will focus on in its rebuttal letter to Fleming.
“Surrey has over 70,000 students, so we absolutely realize how huge it is,” she said.
“But we believe when you take the population and you count the number of portables, that we actually percentage-wise have more portables than they do.”
She said the board will also consider giving priority to any projects at Rutland when it applies for its 2019- 20 facilities grants.
Howell says she wants the government to consider the changes from the perspective of the students.
“When my kids come home and say they don’t want to use the toilets, that they think their school is gross, they hear students from other schools coming making comments about how disgusting our school is, I don’t think that helps any social or emotional learning for our students.”