SD 61 vote to sell land near Lansdowne school passes despite opposition

SD 61 vote to sell land near Lansdowne school passes despite opposition
Mike Graeme Photography
Protestors attended a

The Greater Victoria School Board voted to sell land near Lansdowne Middle School to Victoria Hospice, but some groups are disappointed with that choice.

In a 4-3 vote, the SD 61 board voted to sell 1.28 acres of land south of Lansdowne Middle School to the Victoria Hospice Society for $2.5 million.

Ryan Painter, board chair, says the sale of this land will allow the district to build a net-zero replacement for Cedar Hill Middle School.

“We currently have 15 schools in the Greater Victoria School District that are rated H1, which is the highest need for seismic upgrades. And one of those, in particular, is our Cedar Hill Middle School Project,” Painter said. “My understanding is that with this sale we will be able to meet that net-zero commitment.”

“Of course, inflation is a thing that is impacting all of us right now. I don’t know what the impact is going to be in terms of construction costs and those pieces. I think it’s going to be something that staff will continue to update the board on.”

Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association says she would have preferred to see this land be used for school purposes.

“Our concern is about the ever-shrinking assets of the district and this idea that somehow this public land is surplus when our schools are virtually at capacity across the district,” Waldron said. “We were building these learning studios, which I think is just a fancy name for portables, because schools are over capacity and we need more space, and at the same time, we’re disposing of land where those things can be placed.”

Painter says that the recent catchment review process the board went through was to ensure that schools are not over capacity.

“There is no concern at this point for there being enrollment pressures at the schools given the current trajectory of enrollments and the success of our catchment boundary review,” Painter said.

The next step in the process is the Ministry of Education will review the sale and will either approve or deny it.

CHEK News reached out to Jennifer Whiteside, minister of education for an interview but was told she was unavailable. Instead, the ministry sent a statement confirming they had received the district’s disposal request and are reviewing it.

“The Ministry of Education has received the District’s disposal package, which includes information pertaining to the consultation which has occurred with the local community. The disposal request is subject to Ministerial approval, and ministry staff are currently reviewing the request that was submitted by the district.”

Waldron says she hopes the ministry prevents the sale and ensures the Lansdowne land can continue to be used for school use.

“My hope is that they decline the sale of this property. I do not believe that property is surplus,” she said. “I’m hoping [the minister] steps in. It’s embarrassing to be affiliated with this board. So I hope that the ministry is looking at this. The response I’ve gotten is that it’s a local governance issue, not connected to land sale but in general with everything that’s been going on, and I think it’s a local governance issue that will affect the 20,000 students that go to school here in Victoria.”

Deanna Pfeifer, a community advocate against the sale of land near Lansdowne says if Victoria Hospice were to build on this land, it would negatively impact nearby Bowker Creek.

“This area where that land is, is under incredible pressure to densify. So what that means is that there’s very little green space and that school field is actually our a lot of our green space in our local area plan,” Pfeifer said. “And the fact that once that piece is gone, once it goes into private hands, it’s gone forever. And it’s critical to the health of Bowker Creek and the flood mitigation plans.”

Teams have been working to restore Bowker Creek over several years, but the area where the land sale is taking place has yet to be restored. Pfeifer says the people doing restoration are doing the work voluntarily and aren’t asking the district to provide resources or funds for the restoration.

Painter said that when concerns about Bowker Creek were raised, Victoria Hospice altered its plans to address the concerns.

“The plan for the site and for the creek continued to evolve and what hospice presented on Monday night in their final update was a vision for a meandering creek with all the invasive species removed,” Painter said.

“They would allow it to slope to allow for stormwater management. They’re going to build an outdoor classroom, new landscaping, tree planting all of that. Hospice’s vision is really to make this something that I think the community can be proud of.”

Waldron says recently the community has moved to oppose the sale of the land, including a protest and writing letters asking the district to keep the land.

“The opposition to the land sale, I think was resounding. There was a protest where we heard loud and clear that the community opposes this,” Waldron said. “And yet, they still went ahead with that. So I would say that the board is not listening to the public, to the stakeholders and to the rights holders.”

Both Pfeifer and Waldron brought up the recent suspension of trustees Diane McNally and Rob Paynter, who had previously voted against the sale of the land, and feel that since the vote was so close, the result would have been different had they still been at the table.

“I think it’s pretty clear that because they’ve spoken against in the past the trustee McNally and Trustee Rob Paynter would have also voted against it,” Waldron said. “So it’s highly likely that if both those trustees were at the table it would have failed, and I think that calls into question whether or not they can actually legitimately dispose of land and the situation.”

Painter said the vote to sell the land near Lansdowne met its quorum, which requires four or more trustees to be present. At the meeting, the seven current sitting trustees were all in attendance.

“So the board has quorum at its meeting, quorum is four now that you know the two trustees have been suspended. The board by majority voted, this was a vote of 4-3, but by majority voted to move forward with the third reading and that is the stated purpose of direction that the board has given on this project,” Painter said.

“So the board has made its decision in its determination and will continue to move forward with this project, working with hospice to ensure that not only do they have that space, which they’ve worked very hard to coordinate with the community to help the community and understand what they’re trying to build, but also to completely rehabilitate Bowker Creek.”

McNally and Paynter have both filed petitions with the B.C. Supreme Court asking the courts to review whether the board has the authority to suspend trustees. The petition has not yet been heard in court.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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