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Leading questions fill information vacuums

"North Shore residents - especially those in the city - are entitled to answers and to an unbiased, transparent process. So far, they haven't received that, and unless something changes, council is buying itself nothing by grief.

"North Shore residents - especially those in the city - are entitled to answers and to an unbiased, transparent process. So far, they haven't received that, and unless something changes, council is buying itself nothing by grief."

Elizabeth James, North Shore News, March 7

WHEN I used those words to close last week's column, I sensed they might be as appropriate to the proposed rezoning of "surplus" lands in School District #44, as they were to the rezoning of Harbourside properties south of the automall.

Lack of transparency leads people to fill in the blanks for themselves - and when that happens, it's hard not to impugn political motives along the way.

That Education Minister George Abbott understands the phenomenon was confirmed last week when he told reporters covering the teachers' strike, "I think the consequences of not having a fulsome discussion about what government intends yields a vacuum which can then be filled with nefarious assumptions about what government intends. . . ."

The City of North Vancouver and SD#44 are confronted with that today:

Lack of transparency ranked third in a list of concerns voiced on Feb. 29 at a meeting of 45 neighbours who will be impacted by the proposed relocation of Lucas Centre students to the Balmoral (north) Campus of Carson Graham secondary.

The replacement for the original school on Jones Avenue will become Carson Graham South.

Added to Braemar elementary, there are three schools in close proximity; so the hazards from increased traffic and lack of street parking expected to accompany changes to schoolday and late-night use at Balmoral are of major concern.

The group also questions why the need for a full seismic upgrade - cited as one reason for closing Balmoral - is no longer being proposed: "Why a lesser standard for students attending the Community Learning Program, when the facility was deemed unsafe for a daycare that hoped to locate there?"

To interrupt: some years ago, District of North Vancouver council also raised the spectre of expensive seismic upgrades when it was rationalizing its $3.5 million purchase of an alternate site for Lynn Valley library - a project originally approved by referendum as a $6-million building refit that morphed into the $40-million Lynn Valley town centre.

Today, the local film industry has no problem using the old building.

Balmoral residents believe a proposal to sell SD#44 land assets is a short-sighted, one-term decision and say that, overall, there has been a lack of respect for community input on the part of both council and the school board.

Reached for his comment, long-time area resident Troy Vassos echoed that opinion, "The school board administration consistently ignores the fact that they are accountable to taxpayers in general, not just to the Ministry of Education and parents."

He and other members of the group believe the primary focus of the school district has become one of "enhancing land value for disposition, rather than one of enhancing education."

Agreed. So how about I try to launch a fulsome discussion with some nefarious questions of my own:

- Are residents being turned upside down and students relocated because if (when?) city council acquiesces to highdensity rezoning of the Lucas site it will be worth more to developers than the Balmoral site - part of which is in North Vancouver District?

- What is the financial status of the school board project on the Lonsdale School site, and does that budget play into the school board's need to maximize revenues by selling off Lucas?

- What of the enrolment at Carson South this September? If it exceeds capacity, will "excess" students be housed in portables, or will some join other North Vancouver students who travel elsewhere for their education?

Answers to these and many other questions might have been discovered had a Dec. 12, 2011 motion tabled by Coun. Rod Clark succeeded.

Clark asked council to convene a meeting in early January at which representatives of SD#44, District of North Vancouver council, the recreation commission and Vancouver Coastal Health could discuss all 12 of the properties the school board considers surplus to its needs.

Politics being politics, some members of council jumped all over Clark for using the outdated name "North Shore Board of Health" instead of VCH.

Former school trustee Linda Buchanan - not exactly a rookie councillor on the topic - concluded her supportive remarks about surplus-land dispositions by pointing out that the board had been in contact with Abbott who has "no problem" with the idea of selling off lands the school district feels are surplus to its needs.

Another member couldn't see why the District of North Vancouver would have any interest in discussing how the city zoned the Lucas site.

Who, me? Impugn motives?

School trustees were elected to serve all of North Vancouver, not just the city.

In fact, for good or ill, land-use decisions have a domino effect throughout the North Shore; and as Clark's motion indicated, everyone directly affected by the end result is entitled to participate in the discussions.

To which I will only add - provided, of course, those discussions are open and fulsome.

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