Kamloops council did not have a letter from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, authorizing use of the former Stuart Wood elementary building by Children’s Circle Daycare, before making its decision to deny temporary use of the empty heritage building downtown.
However, consent from the First Nation would not have changed the minds of three of four council members who opposed the plan, with pending Tk’emlups authorization only one piece of the puzzle.
KTW contacted Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Kathy Sinclair and Bill Sarai, who voted against the request. The fourth council member to vote against the day-care bid, Dieter Dudy, could not be contacted at the time this article was filed.
“It’s a complex issue that has lots of moving parts,” Christian told KTW.
Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir said band council consented to a proposal by Children’s Circle to lease a portion of Stuart Wood after legal advice determined granting temporary use of the building as a day care would not undermine the band’s underlying land rights.
“They said that it wasn’t omitting our rights and our title by any means,” Casimir said, noting discussions over long-term use of the property are continuing.
Since Stuart Wood elementary closed in 2016, the city, the provincial government and Tk’emlups te Secwépemc have been in discussions regarding the future use of the heritage building and property, with a joint-use cultural centre planned.
Ownership of the property that borders Third Avenue and Battle and St. Paul streets reverted to the Crown once the school closed and the site was no longer used for educational purposes.
Because the land is Crown-owned, Tk’emlups must be consulted with respect to its future use.
During an in-camera meeting on Jan. 21, council rejected the day care request by a vote of 4-3, with councillors Arjun Singh, Denis Walsh and Dale Bass in favour of granting the lease and Christian, Sinclair, Sarai and Dudy opposed. Coun. Mike O’Reilly did not vote due to a conflict of interest (his child attends the day care), while Coun. Sadie Hunter was on vacation.
Following the day-care request vote, council voted unanimously to deny any further requests to lease Stuart Wood until an agreement with Tk’emlups on the property is reached.
A timing issue, however, resulted in the Tk’emlups letter of consent arriving after city council’s decision on the lease. City CAO David Trawin confirmed the letter arrived after council’s decision.
In November, council had asked staff to get approval from Tk’emlups while negotiating an agreement with Children’s Circle for use of the space. Children’s Circle had requested to lease a portion of Stuart Wood for one year at an annual rate of $24,000, with all snow clearing, leasehold improvements and custodial services the responsibility of the day care.
Trawin said councillors did not approve the deal with Children’s Circle for “various reasons.”
Two councillors told KTW they took the lack of response from Tk’emlups into consideration when casting votes against the day care proposal.
Sinclair said her decision was primarily due to the partnership the city has been fostering with Tk’emlups and discussions to use the building as a joint cultural centre. Christian said he opposed the agreement because he was “waiting for a response from TTES [Tk’emlups].”
However, both Sinclair and Christian said the letter would not have changed their votes, with myriad other issues cited, including: licensing of an abandoned building, asbestos, costs to make improvements and fairness with other private day cares forced to pay market rent.
Sinclair noted the Out of the Cold program could not access space for a shelter this winter and said many other community groups are also looking for space.
Though she said she understands the need for day care space, Sinclair would prefer to create criteria rather than the city being reactive. She said the safety of children was also forefront in her decision, noting School District 73 shuttered Stuart Wood due to safety and accessibility issues.
“I still think that it wasn’t the right decision to approve the space,” she said.
Trawin said it is too late for council to reconsider its decision, due to procedure bylaw rules that limit reconsideration to within seven days.
Sarai said the city has done plenty to help the day care, referencing a land swap the city did to create the future home, in spring of 2021, of Children’s Circle in the Sagebrush neighbourhood. He suggested Interior Health should extend its lease or find the day care a new location, as it is displacing the day care to expand Royal Inland Hospital.
Interior Health has twice extended the lease of Children’s Circle to stay in its location at 904 Third Ave., which is slated to become a new hospital parking lot.
David Fowler, IH’s director of major capital redevelopment, said due to construction of the parking lot, the lease cannot be extended again.
“To complete the parking lot on time, EllisDon Infrastructure must begin site preparation work this summer,” Fowler said. “The nature of the location, being on a hillside, means there is extensive excavation work and retaining walls needed to prepare the site and complete the parking lot on time, in summer 2022.”
Last fall, the city sent an an application to the province, seeking approval to use the building for reasons other than education.
Because approval from Tk’emlups is needed, the province forwarded the proposal to the First Nation for comments. In October, Tk’emlups CAO Dessa Gottfriedson told KTW the band assembled an internal working group, which met and has sought legal advice.
Stuart Wood was identified by the day-care society as a possible short-term location due to the building’s existing classrooms, kitchen, bathrooms and office space.
Wenda Noona, transition manager for the Children’s Circle, said she hopes the day care will ultimately find a home in Stuart Wood, but noted the society has other options.
“Stuart Wood is a perfect fit and it is mutually beneficial,” she said, noting everything needed is there, with only a commercial dishwasher required.
Noonan said the society has identified another location if it is needed, but noted finding another commercial space will likely be more costly due to stringent licensing rules that mandate, for example, a certain amount of space per child and a certain number of washrooms per child.
The day care needs about 3,000 square feet of space and kitchen and laundry facilities. Anybody with information on possible spaces can call the society at 250-314-5033.
Editor's note: This story has been amended to reflect that three of four council members who voted against the request were contacted by KTW. The original story erroneously stated all four council members had been contacted by KTW.