A few hours after officials celebrated NorKam secondary’s groundbreaking for a new trades centre of excellence Friday, B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender was invited to lunch with school board officials.
On the menu: chicken with mushroom gravy and a request for $43 million to rebuild South Kamloops secondary, with a side of $9 million for additions to Westmount elementary and $1.7 million for renovations to the John Peterson building.
Despite the rich meal, Fassbender digested it well, said School District 73 board chairwoman Denise Harper.
“I would characterize this meeting as probably the most positive meeting I’ve had with a minister of education in my life,” she said.
“It was my intention that it should be a positive meeting. I’m sure that politicians hear people complaining all the time.
“We laid out our issues, we laid out our concerns, but we did it in a manner that was just factual and positive. That this is the situation, this is what we have done over the years, this is what our challenges are and this is why.”
Earlier in the day, Fassbender dug the ceremonial dirt for the new $7.4-million NorKam Trades Centre of Excellence.
Asked about the biggest-ticket item, the $43 million for a new South Kam building, Fassbender said it’s in the queue. But so are requests for new schools throughout the province.
“The ministry’s going to work with the district on timing,” he said. “We’ve identified it as a priority.”
“Priority” means it could take at least four or five years to get the project moving. Each proposal has to be judged on its own merits and replacing buildings takes longer than building new.
“It comes down to the enrolment figures and where the population is,” he said.
Harper said South Kam’s numbers haven’t come down that much. The school still has 300 to 400 students in the John Peterson building, on top of the main campus being full.
“The capital plan has not been submitted or it has just been submitted. It’ll be a year or two getting it seriously considered. If it’s sooner than that, we will absolutely turn handsprings. I’d be delighted in five years to be opening another school. But we’ve got it out there, it’s a start,” she said.
“I felt he really heard and he really understood.”
The plan to replace South Kam is still a work in progress, but one option would be to build new on the sports fields while students remain in the classrooms, she said.
“There won’t be portables. What we will do is begin constructing the new building while the students stay in their classes in the old building and move them over when the new building is complete,” said Harper.
How the sports teams would get by without those fields is still not determined, but there is still a field behind John Peterson.
The plan is to rebuild South Kam with enough space that all the students would be in one building. That would leave John Peterson vacant for Beattie to move in.
The trickle-down of that is the Beattie school building on McGill would be empty. Harper said there would be consultations, but Stuart Wood elementary might be looked at alongside the old Beattie building.
For now, it’s all preliminary.
Harper said the goal was to show the minister how responsible the district has been and how serious it is about the list of needs.
“We’ve always been responsible as a district to work with the ministry. We wanted to show all that, how we maintain our buildings,” she said.
“It’s important to show that because, sadly, some districts have not done as good a job of that and I think that’s not being responsible to the public purse.
“It was just a very positive meeting on all counts.”