Summerland council asks school board to reconsider

A letter from Summerland’s municipal council is asking the Okanagan-Skaha School Board to reconsider school closures.

A letter from Summerland’s municipal council is asking the Okanagan-Skaha School Board to reconsider school closures in Summerland.

“Summerland mayor and council propose to School Board 67 trustees the idea of forming a joint Council-School Board select committee tasked with finding a creative approach to identify cost savings while meeting the needs of Summerland students and the community without having to close any local public school,” the letter states.

The letter was dated March 1 and was received by the school board March 2, just days before the March 9 meeting when a decision on potential school closures is to be made.

The school board is considering various school closure options in an attempt to trim operating costs for the school district.

Of 10 options under consideration, two would affect Summerland schools.

One calls for closing Giant’s Head Elementary School, while the other calls for closing Trout Creek Elementary School.

The Giant’s Head School option would see students from that school moved to the Summerland Middle School building. That facility and Trout Creek School would house Kindergarten to Grade 7 students, while those from Grade 8 to Grade 12 would attend Summerland Secondary School.

The Trout Creek School option, presented on Jan. 6, involves closing that school and reconfiguring the remaining three Summerland schools. Giant’s Head School would then accommodate students from Kindergarten to Grade 3. Those in Grades 4 to 7 would attend Summerland Middle School while those in Grades 8 to 12 would attend Summerland Secondary School.

Both options would also see changes to the remaining schools within the community.

Summerland Mayor Peter Waterman said both options would have a devastating effect on the community.

“If an elementary school in Summerland closes, it’s not the same as closing an elementary school in another community,” he said, adding that transferring Penticton children from one school to another does not involve as much travel distance as transferring Summerland students to more distant schools.

Waterman is also concerned with the longer term effects of a school closure in Summerland.

There are 72 building lots in the Trout Creek area at present, with more to come on the market in the future, he said.

In the Giant’s Head School catchment area, there are between 250 and 300 lots that could be used for new housing.

“Giant’s Head is bursting at the seams,” he said.

In addition, he said Summerland will see population growth in the near future.

According to municipal statistics, the number and value of building permits in Summerland have both increased over the past year.

In 2015, a total of 199 permits were issued, with a value of $24,634,950.

This is a significant increase from 2014, when 140 permits, with a value of $13,470,599 were issued.

“We’re confident we’re going to see an uptick in the number of families,” he said.

Linda Van Alphen, chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board, said the board has accepted the letter. However, the date for a decision on school closures will not change.

The board will meet to consider school closure options on the evening of March 9.