BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Resurrect the deal

Vernon School District needs to sit down and reconsider decision on Dorothy Alexander Centre

It’s obvious there has been a break down in communications.

The Vernon and District Association for Community Living admits surprise over the Vernon School District reversing thrusters and not selling the Dorothy Alexander Centre (DAC). And yet, the district insists it has been clear over the last couple of years that the space is unavailable.

Both sides are standing their ground but who is right is actually irrelevant.

What is important to consider is that VDACL has leased the DAC since 1961 when it was known as My School. It has played a critical role in the lives of the developmentally disabled, providing them with educational, social and career opportunities.

“A lot of the clients remember going to school there,” said Eileen Howells, executive director.

When West Vernon Elementary was closed, VDACL took steps to purchase the adjacent 8,500-square-foot DAC so property title actually reflected the reality that the facility has always been a critical part of the organization’s goal of integrating special needs individuals into the community.

Negotiations went back and forth but in 2009, both sides reached an agreement to sell, and in 2010, the Ministry of Education provided its blessing after intense lobbying, particularly from MLA Eric Foster.

Somehow between then and now, the wheels fell off the bus and the land wasn’t sold.

What’s particularly ironic is that word about the situation came out last week just as the community was mourning Klaus Linemayr, a tireless advocate for the developmentally disabled who fought the charge to purchase the DAC.

During a 2010 press conference announcing the Ministry of Education had approved the land deal, Linemayr was bursting with pride.

“As our (clients’) population is aging, there is a need for different programs,” he said.

The goal was to relocate some programs  from the Venture Training site to the DAC. There was also the possibility of new skills programs like a coffee shop and art studio. Sports and theatre activities could have been expanded in the gym.

“It made sense because of the programs we have in close vicinity there,” said Howells.

VDACL is now scrambling to find new facilities for existing programs, let alone new ones, and that will be a challenge given the financial constraints of non-profits and what may actually be available right in town.

Of course the school district is also facing a challenge as it needs room for its alternate learning program, which assists teens and adults complete their education.

Constructing a new facility or leasing private space doesn’t make sense given the school district’s ongoing money woes, so it has been decided that DAC is the only viable solution for the program.

But given that overall student enrolment is declining and the district is looking at restructuring secondary schools, could the alternate learning program not be moved into available spaces at a school? Would that not rationalize limited resources instead of duplicating everything — custodial, secretarial, supplies — at separate facilities?

As was mentioned before, there has been a break down in communications and who is to blame doesn’t matter. What is important, though, is finding a solution that meets the long-term needs of both the school district and the VDACL.

They need to sit down and negotiate and if a facilitator would prove beneficial to the process, perhaps MLA Foster can be asked to get involved once again.

This shouldn’t be an us or them conflict. Both VDACL and the school district are trying to meet the needs of the community and that should be celebrated.

Co-operating to achieve those goals makes the most sense.