It’s one of the hardest decisions Metchosin council will make, but they’ll do it with much public support.
Dozens of residents showed up to the municipal hall Thursday to speak in favour of council’s plans to potentially purchase Metchosin Elementary School from the Sooke School District.
While the meeting was centred around council giving first, second and third reading to a bylaw amendment that allows the District to borrow funds from reserves for the purchase, most people spoke in favour of the sale itself and the benefit it would be to the community.
“Having the school as a central area for our community will strengthen us and the residents of this community will pull together to make it a very good success for us,” said Vanessa Cooper, who has been a Metchosinite since 1989.
Former Metchsoin councillor Larry Tremblay said purchasing the roughly five-acre property on Happy Valley Road would keep the school in the public domain.
“We can all rest in Metchosin knowing that it’s going to remain the way it is today as we see it,” he said. “I would support buying it at any price.”
There were a number of groups who also expressed support including the Metchosin Foundation, the Metchosin Museum Society and the Metchosin Community House.
While many residents were in support of the purchase, some voiced concern about the age of the building and the cost to upkeep it in the coming years.
“I think it’s great that it would be kept in the control of the municipality. My concern is, is it going to be a burden on taxpayers?” said Stephanie Longstaff, who has lived in Metchosin for the past 22 years. “How would Metchosin possibility turn it into an institution? Would the District have to put more money in to turn it into what we [residents] would like it to be?”
Earlier this year, the school district listed the $1.5 million property for sale, which is currently being used by the Metchosin Arts and Culture Community Association. In the summer, the District submitted an offer, however, negotiations are still on going.
According to Mayor John Ranns, the District recently asked for a one-month extension to explore the possibility of finding provincial grants to help fund the purchase. Conditions on the property come off Oct. 19.
“If we hear from the province before the closing date, we could well make a decision at that time. It’s fluid right now, it’s depending on the province,” Ranns said, adding if the sale goes through, the District’s focus for the first five years will be paying back what was borrowed from reserves.
“What we do with it [the school] will depend on the grant funding … That will be our main objective to make those recoveries, to find tenants that will enable us to do that. After that, once our reserves are replenished we’ll look at more sub-regional use.”
In the past, Ranns said he would like to see the gymnasium converted into a small theatre that could host arts and culture events, as well as some type of emergency services component.