On March 14th, School District 61 Trustees (SD61) narrowly passed a third reading of a bylaw to sell a portion of the Lansdowne South Middle School Campus to Victoria Hospice Society (VHS) for $2.5M. It is the view of the Friends of Bowker Creek Society (FoBCS) and the Camosun Community Association (CCA) this land sale process is unlawful. We have sent this letter to the Minister of Education requesting a meeting to discuss this urgent matter involving principle, trust and justice. For the reasons described in the FoBCS/CCA letter it continues to be our view that the Board of Trustees is acting unlawfully. In addition, we do not feel that our concerns have been fairly represented by School District 61, nor have we received a response from the Board of Trustees to our March 11, February 27 or February 11 letters. It is vitally important that community members also be included in discussions and decisions for the future of this property. We ask SD61 not to dispose of this valuable property without consultation and dialog with the affected communities. Community emails stopped the previous land sale attempt in 2007 when this land was designated as potential park space.
We note that SD61 has entered into the sale agreement without the required approval from the Minister of Education. The Ministry of Education’s School Building Closure and Disposal Policies require that:“Boards of education must consider potential needs for alternative community use” and “must consult with local government, community organizations and the public on alternative community uses. We also note the requirement for “broad consultation” and the Minister’s M193/08 Order that the Minister must approve of disposal before SD61 enters into an agreement to sell. The Board indicates in its Consultation Policy that it “values attitudes and practices that encourage integrity, respect and trust in all relationships.” Why is School District 61 fast-tracking this process and marginalizing the participation of community interests?
Bowker Creek (also known as “Thaywun”) runs for 180 metres through the property. The school field has been enjoyed as a local greenspace and community playfield for many decades. This reach of Bowker Creek is identified for restoration in the Bowker Creek Blueprint: A 100-Year Action Plan to restore the Bowker Creek Watershed, endorsed by SD61 in 2018.
The 1.9 acre parcel at Lansdowne South is also identified in the Bowker Creek Daylighting Feasibility Study (DFS) as a site for detaining stormwater in extreme rainstorms to prevent flooding. The DFS recommends five areas from UVic to Oak Bay for floodwater holding areas; including the Lansdowne South site under consideration for disposal by SD61. Oak Bay and Victoria councils have seen and endorsed the DFS report. When will Saanich Council see the DFS?
This greenspace is needed for climate change adaptation and flood mitigation and to maintain public greenspace amid increasing urban density. The Friends of Bowker Creek Society believes the SD61 needs to fulfil its commitment to the Bowker Creek Blueprint and save this property for ecological and educational values. This is a unique property with public access and open fields on both sides of a creek that needs restoration. It would also be another key step in creating a continuous greenway trail linking Oak Bay to the regional trail system.
Email the Ministers, MLAs and Trustees:
The Ministry needs to approve SD61’s request to dispose of the property. We have little time to stop it. If the Minister is made aware, there is an indication a flood of emails could be the tipping point. Please send your concerns to: Minister of Education, Hon. Jennifer Whiteside (email@example.com) and the Deputy Minister, Scott MacDonald (DM.Education@gov.bc.ca). Share your concerns with local MLAs Murray Rankin (murray.rankin.MLA@leg.bc.ca) and Rob Fleming (firstname.lastname@example.org) Copy your email to: email@example.com, cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, asking to stop the sale of this public land and instead keep it for flood mitigation and outdoor education for children – where they can have safe access to the creek, see wildlife, and learn about riparian restoration and what it means to care for a creek in the city.
UPDATE: Final vote on Lansdowne land sale now postponed until March 14th
At the SD61 Board meeting on Feb. 28th, School District 61 Chair Ryan Painter communicated that the third and final bylaw reading on the proposed Lansdowne land sale was postponed until March 14th. The reason given: “…because of timeline issues and working with our partner in this process, our organization through the disposal process, they’re having some timeline issues and challenges.” No further information was provided. Public presentations were made at the meeting regarding the proposed land disposal and the recent censure and ban of two trustees (note that presentations are limited to 5 minutes per speaker).
The Friends of Bowker Creek and the Camosun Community Association sent a letter, dated February 27th, to Minister of Education, Jennifer Whiteside regarding the land disposal at Lansdowne South. Comments regarding the Feb. 2nd SD61 letter to the Minister were attached – correcting misinformation in the Feb. 2nd SD61 letter.
The SD61 – GVSD Special Board Meeting: Proposed Land Disposal at Lansdowne Middle School South Campus was offered by SD61 to allow up to 30 speakers on February 23rd.
On January 24th, FoBC Directors, Peter Haddon, Soren Henrich and neighbour, Deanna Pfeifer made presentations to SD61 in support of keeping the land in public hands. You can hear the full discussion and vote here. Your emails and letters should all have appeared in the Agenda package for the Jan. 24th meeting. Please let SD61 know if your letter was not included in the package.
In addition to our Nov 24 letter to School Trustees and letter to the Minister of Education, the Friends of Bowker Creek Society (FOBCS) and Camosun Community Association made presentations at the November 22 and December 13 SD61 Board meetings. The Bowker Creek Initiative (BCI) also made a detailed presentation to SD61 and Victoria Hospice Society representatives on December 8. We are pleased SD61 hosted this meeting at the request of the BCI. Many other organizations and individuals have also written letters and emails to our elected Trustees.
SD61 posted its Summary of Engagement in early December and School Trustees planned to make a decision on the proposed disposal at their December 13 Board meeting. However, as a result of our collective efforts, the Trustees agreed unanimously to defer their decision. We continue to urge SD61 to withdraw the sale offer, or delay its decision to sell, and genuinely engage with community members in open, transparent dialogue on the future of the property.