›› Scott Fox & David Maxwell
School District 61 is considering granting a 60-year lease to the Capital Region Housing Corporation, resulting in two 3-story townhouse complexes, one 4-story apartment building and two 5-story apartment buildings to be constructed on school grounds. At the same time, the scheduled enlargement of the school will bring the population to 1,000 students.
Preserving precious green space in the heart of Fernwood—for the benefit of both Victoria High School students and the city as a whole—is a goal that is overwhelmingly supported by the city’s community associations, as well as the City of Victoria’s 2017 Parks and Open Spaces Masterplan.
Supporters of the lease arrangement say the area to be used is not ‘green space’ and they are superficially correct. Currently, it is a ‘rubble field’, created when the Fairey Technical Centre was demolished around 2011. During community consultation at the time, the school district agreed to remediate the site; unfortunately this has yet to occur.
A crucial question of equity is also raised. This proposal would increase Victoria High School’s land-to-student ratio to 86 students per acre, in contrast to the SD61 high school average of 62 students per acre. If a student is fortunate enough to attend any other secondary school in the District they will have 38% more green space. Despite having the third largest school population, Vic High would have the second lowest amount of land. Lambrick Park School is the lowest but has acres of contiguous green space available to students. As well, the least amount of land per student and the least amount of contiguous green space available (think of the green space Bowker Creek provides to Oak Bay High School students).
The Ministry of Education Area Standards Policy prescribes standards that apply to all facilities that are to be either newly constructed or enlarged. If the 60-year lease goes ahead, the remaining 11.6 acres would not meet the school site area standard of 12.4 acres for a school of 1000, a difference of 305,000 square feet. The resulting 2.8 acres of activity space would not meet the Ministry’s outdoor-activity space standard of 4.9 acres for a secondary school of 1000.
For School District 61 to lease land it is required by the School Act to demonstrate that the land is surplus to the District’s need, through public consultation and providing ‘projected enrolment in the District’ and the ‘impact on District education programs’.
The only public consultation on this matter—devoted in large part to information on the pending seismic upgrade—occurred June 20, 2019 at Victoria High School. Discussion concerning the 60 year lease was mainly limited to the District’s need for revenue and did not touch on why the land was considered surplus. Hopefully, the School District will hold another public consultation to discuss the outstanding issues raised by the community now the seismic upgrading of Victoria High School has been approved.
For more detailed information and aerial photographs of secondary schools, visit itsnotsurplus.com.