The Kamloops-Thompson school district will undertake a public consultation process to gauge community views on the possible reopening of Ralph Bell elementary — a move that would spark a domino effect impacting students in two other elementary schools and parents and kids in three day-care centres.
During a special meeting on Monday night (April 19), the board of education voted unanimously to proceed to a public consultation process of no less than 60 days, with various trustees emphasizing the community impacted will have a significant say in the final outcome.
“It’s an incredibly difficult decision,” trustee Heather Grieve said. “We really need the input of our community. This is going to be a difficult decision either way.”
Ralph Bell elementary in Valleyview was one of five Kamloops schools that closed in 2010 due to declining enrolment. With enrolment now climbing and many schools at or over capacity, the issue of reopening shuttered schools has come to the forefront.
Another long-closed school, Westsyde elementary, reopened in September 2019 after having no students in the halls since the spring of 2006. The school district spent $1 million to get Westsyde ready to host classes once again.
If Ralph Bell is reopened for the 2022-2023 school year, the estimated one-time capital cost to bring it up to standards similar to Westsyde elementary is $759,000. In addition, another $464,000 in annual operating costs is projected. That money would cover various staffing positions, plus the cost of bussing some former Juniper Ridge elementary students to Ralph Bell as part of catchment area changes.
The operating costs also factor in revenue lost from current leaseholders in the building.
If Ralph Bell were to reopen, catchment area changes would see 129 of the 513 students now at Juniper Ridge being bussed to Ralph Bell. The reopening would also see 82 of the 317 kids now attending Marion Schilling switch to Ralph Bell, some by bus, others walking/being driven to school.
Ralph Bell is at 1764 Valleyview Dr., 5.3 kilometres from Juniper Ridge (2540 Qu'Appelle Blvd) and 2.4 kilometres from Marion Schilling (2200 Park Dr.).
Last week, the board of education received a long-term facilities report, which detailed overcrowding in schools and the need for new facilities.
Right now, Juniper Ridge is 43 per cent over capacity, with 487 students in a building meant for 341. Marion Schilling is at 97 per cent capacity, but is projected to be at 100 per cent more capacity from this September and in the following years.
Even with the 2022 reopening of Ralph Bell to ease pressures on neighbouring schools, projections call for Juniper Ridge and Ralph Bell to remain above capacity, with Marion Schilling between 80 and 94 per cent under capacity until 2025, when the school is anticipated to begin exceeding capacity.
Meghan Wade, the board of education’s vice-chair, called it a “capital crisis” many years in the making.
“This is one step that we would have to take,” Wade said of the public consultation process.
“It will be up to the community to help us and inform us in making this choice as to whether we open up Ralph Bell, make changes to catchment areas and bus kids in. This board and our senior staff have continually gone above and beyond to do everything that we can do in our power to try and manage the capital crisis that we are in. And, whether Ralph Bell is open or not, we remain in a capital crisis. If we do open it, all we’re doing is sharing the pain.”
While Ralph Bell elementary is currently closed as a school, it has three day-care tenants that will need to find new homes if the board decides to reopen the school.
For more information on what the public consultation process will entail, go to the Kamloops-Thompson school district’s website at sd73.bc.ca or call 250-374-0679.