THE North Vancouver Board of Education is likely to find some stiff opposition to a proposal that could involve selling off 11 school district owned properties that are no longer needed.
Blueridge Elementary, Cloverley, Fromme, Keith Lynn, Lonsdale Creek Annex, Lucas Centre, Maplewood, Monteray, Plymouth, Ridgeway Annex and Westover schools have all been identified as properties that could be leased or sold. The revenue would be reinvested into classrooms, educational programming and capital projects on the North Shore.
The district held an open house at Ridgeway elementary Wednesday night to present information on the issue and begin taking feedback from the public. The most common suggestion from the approximately 200 attendees: Don't sell the land.
Despite suggestions from the public that selling the schools was a foregone conclusion, board chairwoman Franci Stratton stressed no decisions have been made.
"The options are open. I just want us to be able to have this process so more people in the community are informed about what this project is about and what it means to the school district and how can we work together so that we meet all of our needs. It boils down to students," she said. "We can provide rich opportunities for our students."
Among the more common suggestions from residents for other uses for the properties: seniors' housing and affordable housing, more sports facilities, community centres, special needs uses, day care, parks and playgrounds.
Stratton noted most of the suggestions would not bring more revenue into the school district, and would likely result in more costs. But she added if the community shows a desire and the right partnerships can be formed with other governments and agencies, anything is possible.
Stratton said the community's reaction will help the board reach decisions on what to do with the properties, but the board still has a mandate to serve its students.
"As for the feedback we get, we have to balance that with what our needs are as well. It's a balanced approach," she said.
Stratton noted that most attendees did not have schoolaged children who would benefit from more revenue in the system.
Ron Polly, leader of the citizens group North Van City Voices, said his group strongly opposes selling any of the properties on the philosophical grounds that the properties should remain in the public trust.
Like others at the open house, Polly said the potential sale of the lands would be a bad decision over the long term.
"Density on the North Shore is increasing and to get rid of these large parcels of land for short-term gain is a huge mistake," he said, adding that the district would be "cannibalizing itself" until it has no valuable assets left when it needs them.
"What are they going to do then?" he asked. "But if they lease these lands out, they have continued income and they have assets growing."
A consultant's report concludes none of the schools will be needed over the long term.
Polly said he doesn't expect the community will be able to convince school trustees not to sell the properties, calling the board "developer-driven."
"I don't think we have much of a chance of persuading the school board, honestly," he said. "When the North Van school district identifies community need by the value of the property, there's something wrong there."
Polly said the decisions on what to do with the land should be made across the communities and local governments of the entire North Shore, rather than just school trustees.
Lucas Centre, one of the largest and most valuable properties, drew the most attention. Neighbours of the 5.05-hecatre property are adamant that local streets could not handle traffic from more development, especially multi-family condos.
"We don't want increased residential because of the limited access to get at the area," said Annette Kaufman.
Kaufman said her neighbours all along 21st Street agree.
Others lamented the potential loss of the property's sports fields, a commodity in short supply on the North Shore.
The land is currently zoned for public use and assembly, while the official community plan calls for low-density, single-family homes and parkland in the surrounding area.
There are no current estimates as to how much the 11 properties would be worth if sold at market value, according to district staff. Fromme, Maplewood, and Westover are all currently leased out long term for around $325,000 per year.
The district will continue to take comments on the land management plan online at www.nvsd44.bc.ca.
The district will make a presentation and collect more feedback at a meeting at the Lucas Centre gym on May 29.
The final report on the community consultation is expected in early June.