The board for School District 83 is holding public consultation sessions to gather input for its Long Range Facilities Plan. The next session will take place at Parkview Elementary in Sicamous on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (Black Press file photo)

North Okanagan school district talks options for avoiding overcrowded classrooms

SD83 held public consultation at Grindrod Elementary Tuesday; next session Jan. 16 in Sicamous

The North Okanagan-Shuswap school district is partway through a round of talks with the public that will help shape future plans for its facilities.

School District 83’s board met with Enderby city council, Grindrod Elementary staff and parent from the Grindrod area on Tuesday for input on the development of its Long Range Facilities Plan. The plan lays out potential changes the district could pursue in order to work around rising enrolment numbers.

Enrolment throughout the province was previously trending downward, but as superintendent Peter Jory explains, in the last five years that trend has reversed.

“Certainly we’re no exception to that,” said Jory, who pointed to economic influences that have changed the demographics of the North Okanagan.

“One of those influences is the price of housing in the Lower Mainland, and so it’s become attractive and that’s pushing our enrolment up in part, and the Enderby zone is experiencing an influx of families from other areas.”

Enderby’s M.V. Beattie Elementary School is currently at capacity and bussing students out to Grindrod Elementary, which is now also projected to approach or exceed capacity.

Tuesday’s public consultation at Grindrod Elementary focused on an option to change the school from Kindergarten to Grade 7 (K-7) to a K-6 school in order to avoid a future capacity crunch. Grindrod’s Grade 7 students would transfer to A.L. Fortune Secondary in Enderby, which has already taken on M.V. Beattie’s Grade 7 students.

“A.L. Fortune is a 7-12 school that has space,” said Jory. The school has an operating capacity of 550 students. In 2018-19 it had 171 in enrol ed students, and its projected enrolment for 2030-31 is just 193.

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While re-configuring Grindrod’s school was a heavily discussed topic on Tuesday, Jory said the planning is in the very early stages, and plans are far from finalized.

“We want to be patient. If we don’t need to make a change that’s going to be disruptive right away we won’t do it,” he said.

“The meeting was about sharing options and then gathering information from parents. And of the parents that showed up, several of them spoke against the idea of re-configuring the school, and the board definitely heard that.”

The facilities plan will need to be submitted in full by June 30. Jory says whatever changes the board may decide to pursue would take place a year down the road rather than this coming September.

The board will next be in Sicamous for a public consultation with parents at Parkview Elementary on Thursday, Jan. 16 – however, talks at that session are likely to be fairly different from the session in Grindrod.

“Sicamous has lots of space currently (so) we’re not talking about making any changes out there.”

Instead, Jory anticipates a conversation about the musty odour that plagued the school to start the year, which led to a temporary closure on the advice of Interior Health. Parkview classes were shuffled to other schools in the area as a result of the seven-week closure.

“I’m pretty sure the community would like to check in on that, and that’s a very good use of our time.”

More sessions will take place in Salmon Arm and the Armstrong-Falkland area. The dates for those sessions are to be determined but will be released about two weeks prior.

“We’re really excited about interacting with the public and learning more about our school district and giving the board the information they need to make the best possible decisions on behalf of our students.”

READ MORE: Okanagan Indian Band releases site maps for proposed new school

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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