Official trustee Mike McKay listens to the public’s views regarding School District 83’s potential sale of the SASCU Downtown Activity Centre at a meeting held Wednesday, May 2. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

Salmon Arm citizens hope to purchase former school

School district expected to invite bids from prospective buyers as early as next week

Residents want the SASCU Downtown Activity Centre in Salmon Arm to live on in its current role.

That was the overwhelming sentiment expressed by the more than 60 people who packed the library at the DAC Wednesday evening to hear about the school district’s plans for the former elementary school.

At the end of the meeting, the plan favoured by those who spoke was to work on ways to buy the building. Kim Sinclair, head of the organization that rents the DAC from the school district, has already been working on an offer. Another meeting is planned for next Wednesday night, May 9, at 7 p.m. for residents who wish to support the plan.

After the May 2 meeting, Sinclair said he is feeling more hopeful, was pleased with the turnout and with the message that the DAC is an asset to the community. However, he says what his group and what the school district considers the value of the property is a long way apart.

“That’s a challenge moving forward.”

Related: DAC’s long-term future in doubt

Official trustee Mike McKay began the meeting by saying he wanted to share facts so everyone would be working from the same base. He said Salmon Arm Elementary was constructed in 1921 as a two-storey brick building and had four additions: in 1936, 1967, 1970 and 1982. It closed in 2003 and the school district received approval from the ministry to sell the building on its 1.02-acre site in 2015.

The school district has only one tenant, Salmon Arm Partners in Community Leadership Association, which sublets to a number of other organizations. Its five-year lease expires on June 30 of this year, but has been extended to Dec. 31. As part of the lease in 2013, those who sublet were informed that the lease would not be renewed. The building is five per cent owner-occupied by the district’s Storefront School.

McKay said the market value the district received from an appraisal in May of 2017 is $1.5 million. He said the building is deemed below-average condition and has issues such as asbestos – which is safe for now unless disturbed – no air conditioning, no disabled access and outdated mechanical systems.

Related: City asked to acquire DAC

He discussed three options: keep the building and continue to lease; keep the building and renovate or rebuild an elementary school; and sell the building.

• To continue to lease, option 1, the district would need close to $3 million in funds in the short to mid-term for repairs such as HVAC system installation, roof repairs and a new fire alarm system. The district makes no money from the $1/year rent and would have to redirect funds from core educational services.

• To rebuild/renovate, option 2, costs are estimated at $8 million and the work could take about two years.

• To sell the building, option 3, proceeds could be used for other capital projects, particularly a new elementary school on the north end of the property which is needed to accommodate the 110 or so young children living in the downtown area. McKay says the education ministry requires that districts provide a substantial contribution to such projects. A new elementary school would likely cost between $12 and $15 million and currently the district has about $1 million in reserves for capital projects.

McKay said he thinks it would be irresponsible to extend the lease, as taxpayers would be on the hook for substantial repairs so funds would be diverted from education.

He also said the district is looking at moving the Storefront School to the main floor of the District Education Support Centre on Shuswap Street.

Desiree Roy’s words garnered applause when she asked the school district to take into consideration the potential environmental impact if the building were to be demolished and another one built in its place.

McKay said some might argue that an energy efficient building would lessen the environmental footprint, but he agreed the environment must be considered.

Carol Rogers of Shuswap Kids Club, which uses four rooms in the DAC, spoke passionately in favour of maintaining the leases. She said she has used other buildings over the past 25 years and the DAC is, by far, the best.

“Is it the prettiest? No, but you know what? It is functioning and our children, I’ve seen a massive shift in their energy, their behaviour and their happiness, and they’re thriving here.”

Dorothy Rolin spoke to the importance of keeping the DAC, which is on the city’s heritage registry, as it is “the last public heritage building in Salmon Arm that we can save.” Her speech was met with applause.

McKay replied: “I am not immune to the heritage importance, nor am I immune to kids who are thriving in this building, nor would any board be immune to that, nor to the community’s good heart that is demonstrated here tonight. So when we receive offers, we will certainly be mindful of that. And I think that the city, in its work to develop the kind of community assets that they are directly responsible for, through their mandate, should be fully engaged in this conversation.”

Couns. Kevin Flynn and Tim Lavery were in attendance, and said they would take the discussion back to council.

Related: Plans to sell Salmon Arm’s Downtown Activity Centre on agenda

McKay said after the meeting he would like to see the city and school district work closely together.

“If there’s a big new subdivision happening, we should know about it, not just the signs. If we are considering something about the Downtown Activity Centre, they should know well ahead about it.”

He said it’s impossible to turn back the clock and he’s not pointing fingers, but he notes that three major administrative buildings are within about a two-kilometre circle – city hall, the regional district building at the foreshore, and the school district building on Shuswap.

He pointed out that the taxpayer only “has one pair of jeans” for paying taxes.

McKay said the request for expressions of interest in the DAC property could likely be ready next week, with a period of five or six weeks following to gather bids.


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

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