Splitting up Grade 7 classmates, traffic concerns and praise were among the sentiments expressed by the public during a consultation meeting on re-opening Westsyde elementary.
The Kamloops-Thompson school board approved a motion to start a consultation process before deciding to re-open the school at 3550 Westsyde Road, which began Wednesday with district staff hearing from about 20 of the 60 people gathered in the gymnasium of David Thompson elementary.
Multiple parents had concerns regarding students being split up from their friends.
One woman asked if it would be possible to implement a soft start to the class splitting by moving all the students affected by the catchment change next year, except for those going into their final year of elementary school, which wouldn’t take effect until 2020-2021.
“As a cohort, a lot of them have been together since kindergarten,” she said.
There were about 10 people who indicated they were concerned about this issue and staff said they would take it under advisement.
Parents also asked about parking congestion and speed zones once Westsyde elementary is opened, concerns district facilities director Art McDonald said would be raised with the City of Kamloops.
“We share the same concerns,” district superintendent Alison Sidow told the crowd.
Many in attendance gave positive feedback on the idea to re-open the school, with one man noting the additional space will be a great help to his daughter who has special needs.
The school district intends to re-open Westsyde elementary in time for the 2019-2020 school year in response to overcrowding at nearby David Thompson elementary — a decision the school board will make official on March 11.
The student population at David Thompson is currently listed as 425, which is about 125 per cent of the school’s capacity as per the Ministry of Education’s formula for the number of students schools can accommodate.
The school district estimates the number of students at David Thompson will be slashed to 250 next fall with the proposed catchment change, with Westsyde elementary housing 175.
The proposed catchment change would see students living north of Pine Springs Road, starting from homes that border Sicamore Drive, Sumac Place and Seneca Place, attend Westsyde elementary.
District assistant superintendent Rob Schoen said that line was based on a projection of 299 students attending David Thompson and 208 students attending Westsyde in the next five years.
McDonald said the catchment area is similar to what it was for Westsyde before the school closed in 2006 due to declining enrolment.
Transfer students at David Thompson elementary — students who live outside the catchment area — will not be moved to Westsyde elementary and those who live closer to Westsyde, but just missed the cutoff, are welcome to transfer if they wish.
Amalgamating sports teams between the two schools in case participation is low was suggested — an idea Schoen said he would bring up with the principals.
Concern over the lack of fencing around the school was also raised, given that Westsyde elementary borders busy Westsyde Road.
“It’s something we can look at. I know there is fencing along the entire field that separates the field from the parking lot,” McDonald said.
On the issue of split classes, Schoen said about half of those in Westsyde would likely have that composition, which is consistent with David Thompson and the district as a whole.
Rounding out the answers to the night’s questions: converting free space in David Thompson back into multi-purpose rooms will be at the discretion of the school’s principal and parent advisory council dollars would likely be split with Westsyde.
The public is invited to email the school district their feedback until Feb. 28, at which time the public consultation phase will end. To do so, email Facilityinput@sd73.bc.ca. Comments will be posted on the district website at sd73.bc.ca.
About $1 million in capital costs will also be required to re-open Westsyde elementary — which will be offset by $480,000 in future years as portables at David Thompson will be moved to other schools and negate the need to buy portables for those facilities.
Many of the classrooms will be renovated and the entire building will be painted inside and out.
Renovations will also include upgrading the school’s Wi-Fi, lighting, flooring and handicap accessibility and adding furniture, playground equipment and library books.
“It would be outfitted similarly to our other schools,” McDonald said.
A principal will also need to be hired, but the vice-principal position would be eliminated at David Thompson because enrolment would dip below 300 students.
Schoen said the change wouldn’t likely result in any additional teachers in the district and the required teaching positions would be open to all district teachers to apply.
Outside of alleviating overcrowding at David Thompson, district staff noted that re-opening Westsyde will provide more space at both schools for learning assistance, partner agencies and specialized programs, as well as more locker space for the students. Dividing the student population up will also alleviate parking issues and mean shorter walking distances for students.