Revelstoke council turned down an offer from the Revelstoke School District to acquire the Mount Begbie Elementary gymnasium.
“I can easily say I do not think it is in the city’s best interest to acquire another building at this time when we have a lot of buildings that are breaking down like the golf course and the storage building by the rec centre,” said councillor Scott Duke, during discussion by council last Tuesday, Feb. 23.
Council followed a staff recommendation to decline the offer of the gym. Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services, told council, the gym was not part of the city’s park’s plan. “It’s not a facility we have targeted for city use for at this point in time,” he said.
All six councillors agreed with the recommendation from the planning department, while Mayor Mark McKee said he’d like to get more details on the cost of running the facility before making a decision.
“Has anyone gone and looked at what could be options and costs for us?” he said. “I would like to know is it free, how much is it going to cost, how big a deal would the services be that may or may not be there, what are operating costs, what’s an estimate of the usage?”
Aaron Orlando, who chairs the parks, recreation & culture committee, said he was ambivalent about the decision.
“We don’t have this accounted for. So far as my understanding of the planning process, you can’t just take on something on because it’s all of a sudden there. You should be very wary,” he said. “That would require a study because we don’t know what we’re getting into. It’s built in 1993. We don’t know what shape it’s in.”
The school district plans to demolish the school, but offered the city the chance to take over the gym before it does so.
The gym at Mount Begbie Elementary is said to be in generally good condition. Mike Hooker, the superintendent of the school district, told the Review it costs about $6,000 per year to provide heat and electricity to the gym. He said the mechanical systems are in place for the gym to stand alone.
The move has upset Sam Lerose, the head of the 60-member Revelstoke Boxing Club, which operates out of the gym.
“Council made a hasty decision without knowing all of the facts,” he said following the meeting. “That gym can stand alone at minimal cost.”
The Review raised questions around the decision. Notably, the city’s Parks, Recreation & Culture Master Plan calls for the city to “Investigate Feasibility of developing Mountain View School as a community arts facility and the opportunities for future community use of Mt. Begbie and Farwell schools.” We asked what kind of investigation was done. It appears only a high-level discussion took place and detailed costs of maintaining the facility were never looked at.
In an interview, Strachan said the recommendation to decline the acquisition of the gym came from the parks department.
“(Laurie Donato) provided the recommendation that we not take the Mount Begbie School,” he said. “From a land use perspective, our recommendation was that. council supported the recommendation.”
Donato said the issue was discussed by the parks & recreation committee, and that concerns were raised about the costs associated with taking over the gymnasium, and the need for another facility.
“Some of the concerns were the age of the structure, not having any current information on the condition of the building, the cost to maintain, and whether there was the demand for use of that facility,” she said. “Those were some of the things we had high-level discussion on because we didn’t have a lot of information at the table at the time.”
Donato said that while the gym might be in good shape now, it would represent a long-term cost for the city at the same time they’re looking at major work on the Forum and at Williamson’s Lake. “How do we prioritize this into that?” she said.
Lerose said he would be starting a petition asking for council to reconsider its decision. He said he would be approaching other community groups about sharing the gym. “There’s no reason why the city can’t do it in conjunction with some groups,” he said. “The cheapest way is for the city to take it over and lease it out for a society to run. They’re doing it now with the old police station.”
Council, for its part, asked staff to look at ways to accommodate the boxing club in the city’s existing facilities.
“I don’t want to get bogged down in engineering reports and costs and all that stuff, but I would like to know how we accommodate these user groups – they’re important to our community – and make sure we support them,” said coun. Connie Brothers.
City asks for park land on site
PHOTO: The Revelstoke School District is looking at options for re-zoning the Mount Begbie Elementary site. The City of Revelstoke declined an offer to acquire the gym building. ~ Image from the Revelstoke School District.
The decision on the gym wasn’t the only one discussed by council. They also passed a recommendation that the school district preserve some parkland on the Mount Begbie Elementary site, and that it seek community input on the location and size of the park.
The school district presented numerous plans for re-developing the site, ranging from large single family lots, to multi-family development.
Dean Strachan said several options were rejected outright. In response to questions from council, he said any development that involves driveways or laneways opening up onto Fourth Street were non-starters.
“We don’t want to see direct access to the main roadway, to Fourth Street,” he said. “It’s a busy roadway and it’s only going to get busier.”
He also suggested having higher density along Fourth Street would be more acceptable. “The use or acceptability of noise and traffic rises with density,” he said. “If you can move forward with multi-family development on Fourth Street, it’s more receptive by those purchasers there would be a busy roadway out front.”
Mike Hooker said the school district would be hosting an open house to seek input on re-development of the site. They are looking at getting it re-zoned before seeking to sell the property.
The school district is expected to earn $2.4 million from the sale of the old Big Eddy, Mountain View and Mount Begbie school sites. Sub-division of the Big Eddy site is on hold until at least 2018 while the city deals with water issues in the area. The school district is working on a re-zoning application for the Mountain View site to make it more appealing for developers.