School Board Q&A

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, October 17 2018

The 20 candidates running for the nine Trustee seats in Nanaimo-Ladysmith School Division (SD68) are: Bill Bard, Lisa Marie Barron, Tania Brzovic, Jennifer Clarke, Hunter Ehrismann, Richard Finnegan, Corinne Furtmann, Patti Grand, Stephanie Higginson, Greg Keller, Scott Kimler, Charlene McKay, Chantel O’Neill, Bill Robinson, Terrylynn Saunders, Jen Skogland, Jessica Stanley, Marilyn Sullivan, Matt Szeler, Elaine Wilkinson.

Candidates Jennifer Clarke and Terrylynn Saunders did not respond to the Q&A.

Have you been to Gabriola? Gabriola Elementary School?

Bard - Yes. Many times to the school. I missed this year’s Artisans’ Tour last weekend due to illness. However, I’ve spent time visiting friends, including the late Gabriola cheerleader of the century June Harrison.

Barron - Yes, I have been to beautiful Gabriola Island. Unfortunately, I have never been to Gabriola Elementary School. Visiting Gabriola Elementary is a priority.

Brzovic - I have been to the island, but not the school, as it hasn’t been one of my zone schools this term.

Ehrismann - I have been to Gabriola on a number of occasions but not since I decided to run for trustee. I have not visited the elementary school.

Finnegan - My family owned property on Sea Girt Road for many years and so I have spent summers there and attended NDSS with students who had to ferry and bus over from the island and back in 1987-88.

Furtmann - Yes, I have been to Gabriola Island numerous times and although I have seen Gabriola Elementary from the outside, I have never been inside the school.

Grand – Yes. I have been to Gabriola. I have even considered moving there a few times. I know several wonderful friends who love their lifestyle on Gabriola. Because I have always had to work in Nanaimo, I seldom get to Gabriola except on weekends so I haven’t been inside the Gabriola Elementary School.

Higginson - I have been to Gabriola many times. I often visit in the summer with the family. We also purchased our maple syrup evaporator from an islander last year. I always try to stop by the school when I am there for a quick check-in and walk around. Unfortunately, I am often there when the school is closed, so I just get to walk around the outside of the school and peek in the windows. The school has that special small community vibe that is often associated with the elementary school in a small or remote location.

Keller – Yes, I have been to Gabriola and Gabriola Elementary School. I have not had an opportunity to tour the inside of the school.

Kimler - Yes and yes. I am thinking about coming again next week (if the weather holds) and bicycling around the island to plink down some election signs and meet with voters.

McKay - Yes, I have been to Gabriola, but not to the school. I recently enjoyed an evening at the Skol Pub, where I was able to meet local residents and discuss education.

O’Neill - I have fond memories of times I have been to the island for both work and pleasure; by the time this paper goes to press I will have visited again.

Robinson - Yes I have, several times. I have twice been the trustee for NDSS and its feeder schools. Gabriola Elementary is one of the feeder schools as you know.

Skogland - I have visited Gabriola several times in my 20 years living in Nanaimo. I have not visited the elementary school but when elected I would be honored if I was selected to represent your community.

Stanley - I have been to Gabriola but not to the elementary school.

Sullivan - Yes I have been to Gabriola Island many times and yes, I have been to Gabriola Elementary. It is a wonderful and friendly community.

Szeler - No, I am just starting my journey to be a trustee.

Wilkinson - I’ve been to Gabriola many times. I’ve sold homes there. One of the cool programs that the school has is gardens that the kids tend to and harvest for lunches.

What’s your impression of the island? Of the community here?

Bard - No matter where I go in BC, most people know Gabriola. Whether because of its location, it’s natural beauty, or the art and particularly the music from Gabriola. The island has seen growth in families with children. The elementary school has seen particular growth. It is important to me that we have safe schools. Let’s not deny the reality of the big earthquake expected any time in the coming century, and with that comes the responsibility of maintaining seismically secure learning and working spaces. Safety goes well beyond bricks and mortar. I am a member of the LGBTQ2+ community and a supporter of SOGI 123.

Barron - Every time I visit Gabriola Island, I am impressed by all the island has to offer from outdoor parks to its arts, music and culture. Gabriola has its own unique, vibrant community and I always enjoy my visits. Regardless if I am elected or not, I look forward to continuing to build relationships with the Gabriola community.

Brzovic - It’s beautiful. The community seems close-knit. Gabriola has a unique character we must support in any way we can. I love the school’s approach to outdoor education.

Ehrismann - Gabriola is a beautiful island, home to a great community. Its community faces some unique challenges, namely transportation. Secondary students on Gabriola might benefit from adjusted school start times.

Finnegan - I love the gulf islands. Gabriola is a small, sleepy, close-knit community in the winter and is bustling with tourists and residents (like I was) in the summer with great sandstone beach walks, small pubs and artists. I always enjoyed Twin Beaches on a low tide and being able to ride the island on my bike in one day. 

Furtmann - I love the community and honestly, if it wasn’t for relying on the ferry, I would seriously contemplate moving there. The people are friendly, the community vibe is relaxed and caring, and personally I can feel my blood pressure lowering every time I step off the boat.

Grand - I am actually envious of the inclusive nature of Gabriola and especially love the “it takes a village” attitude where kids are everyone’s concern. It reminds me of my own neighbourhood when I was a kid in Toronto.

Higginson - The island is such a unique community within the school district. There is a closeness that you can feel when you are there. And I really love GERTIE. GERTIE demonstrates the resoluteness of this community to advocate effectively for their needs, to build infrastructure that reflects the values the community holds dear, and further the economic development of the island in non-intrusive way.

Keller - Gabriola is a special place. I like the community, the island atmosphere and the people who live there.

Kimler - After city living (Dallas, Vancouver, Denver, Edmonton, Houston, etc.) I love listening to Vancouver AM radio, “backed up on the Port Mann bridge,” while I pause on the road for deer.

McKay - My impression of Gabriola would be that of a supportive and uniquely artistic community located on a picturesque island.

O’Neill - Gabriola is rich in arts and culture, technology and communications and working families. Similar to my community in Lantzville, Gabriola is a close-knit, rural community with close connections to the city.

Robinson - I see Gabriola as a tight-knit, creative community; people like my friends Jenny and John Marcus who have nothing but great things to say about their friends and neighbours, folks who may be less known but are productive, interesting people.

Skogland - As a person who grew up in the small town of Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, I feel that same sense of tranquility and community when I visit your island. There is a strong and vibrant artist community and I have enjoyed the Art Tour events held annually.

Stanley - Gabriola is beautiful and appears to have strong sense of community around its school. Although there appears to be a mix of income levels across the population and a community heavily influenced by tourism, there seems to be much connection throughout the community whether that be though the school or through the Lions Club, etc. 

Sullivan - Gabriola is a beautiful island and I do have favourite spots there - I have always known people there to work together to make things happen. I knew a lady that worked on building the golf course many, many, years ago. A lot of that was done by hand rakes and hundreds of hours of dedication.

Szeler - I have visited your island several times and we have brought visitors from out of area to enjoy your hospitality and different businesses. In fact, our daughter from Toronto came to visit us and it was one of the highlights of her trip. 

Wilkinson - I think Gabriola is a wonderful community. It’s very welcoming and so rich in arts and culture. The landscape is stunning with many opportunities for outdoor adventures.

Would you support the five-year capital plan approved of by the current board?

Bard - I think the current plan needs a thorough review.

Barron - If elected, one of my priorities would be to review the five-year capital plan approved by the current board to ensure it meets the best interest of all students in the long term.

Brzovic - In general, yes. I think we do need a full review of our facilities and we must do this review in a way that ensures that the public has many opportunities to give meaningful input.

Ehrismann - I support the five-year capital plan. If given the choice of a renovation or rebuild of NDSS I would prefer the rebuild. We need to be thinking long term. Education not just for the students we have now but also the future children of the students of today.

Finnegan - I would vote to rescind and revise the current five-year plan for January of 2019 based on the goals of the new board. Approving a plan and a budget, days before a new board is voted in is problematic, as it ties a new board to visions of an outgoing board. I acknowledge that the MOE has timelines that affect when plans are submitted and unfortunately do not coincide with elections.

Furtmann - I believe the question about the five-year capital plan was switched to whether I support a renovation or a teardown and rebuild of NDSS, and at present I would personally support the teardown and rebuild option. It’s more cost effective and I feel would be less disruptive to the student population, while leaving them with a new and modern place to learn upon completion.

Grand - I do not know how the SD68 re-evaluated their annual review of their five-year plan. Some data is flawed.

Higginson - The current school board completed a four-year facilities plan this past spring. When this plan was completed, the current board recognized that there were elections coming up, the decision was made to let the next board embark on the creation of a new fulsome, long-range facilities plan. The current capital plan that was submitted is a necessity for Ministry reporting and funding. It does reflect what I feel are overarching capital needs, however a new long-range facilities plan, completed with meaningful community engagement is what is necessary to guide the district capital plan submissions. School grounds and community parks serve a dual purpose and through joint funding agreements we could cost share these initiatives. For Gabriola, this would mean working in partnership with RDN and Islands Trust to create joint use facilities and learning opportunities. Imagine a joint-funded outdoor waterfront classroom that is utilized by school groups during the day and available for community use during non school hours.

Keller - Yes, though I would like to learn more about the needs of the Gabriola Community to ensure that student needs are being met. Going forward, we need to improve our facilities planning and community engagement processes to ensure that we address and prepare for changing student enrollment.

Kimler - As a current board member, I approved it. So, yes. Let’s just hope that the Ministry ponies up the money to pay for it all. Submitting a five-year capital plan is far different than having all the items approved and paid for by the Ministry.

McKay - The capital plan has been submitted based on the Ministry of Education’s current priorities; in this regard, I do support the plan. I believe that the incoming Board of Education should review the plan as a part of our due diligence to ensure it meets the current needs of students and the board’s values.

O’Neill - I need more information before stating whether I am in favour of the teardown versus renovation. A new facility is long overdue, and the teardown at a lower cost seems to be the best choice, we have to look at the entire project on considering true costs, timelines and student placements.

Robinson - Yes I did and do.

 

Skogland - As school trustee, I will support the existing plans that have been submitted to the Ministry of Education. Moving forward, I will ensure that our plans reflect the best interest of our district students and their communities. As a trustee, I will work with fellow board members diligently and provide innovative and relevant solutions to our district’s resource and financial challenges. I believe with creative resource use and partnership with community organizations we can create a sustainable budget.

Stanley - Evaluating the capital plan as presented is challenging as the documents discussing the plan provide no information about the age and condition of the school buildings. I support prioritizing seismic mitigation as the Ministry requires but I am surprised that there are no school buildings proposed for replacement. I can understand that there is need to expand some schools given the growth in population but wonder about proposed expansions in light of school building age. In general, I am more favourable to replacing school buildings rather than only performing remedial work or seismic upgrades when the building is nearing the end of its lifespan.

Sullivan - I have seen the five-year plan presented to the board. I believe that needs to be looked at very closely by the new trustees. There are many questions to be asked.

Szeler - Yes, I have no reason or know enough about this not to support it.

Wilkinson - I will always do what’s collectively best for kids, so once I have all the information then I will be able to make an informed decision moving forward. I do believe in creativity and working with community partners. A rebuild of NDSS is more cost effective and makes way more sense.

Gabriola’s at the top of the list for playground enhancement, would you approve that if/when that funding comes available?

Bard - Part of a facility plan review will be to identify the sites with the highest safety risk. Those that are most in need, regardless of what part of the district they are in, deserve to be the highest priority.

Barron - If I knew, I would share, but I do not have access to such a timeline at this point in time.

Brzovic - I admit I am unsure. The Ministry controls this process. As a trustee I would certainly encourage the board to advocate to the them to do these enhancements as quickly as possible.

Ehrismann - The capital funding process is uncertain. The Province allocates money how it wants. We should advocate for a system where school boards allocate funding - locals know where money is best spent.

Finnegan - This may take two to three years to realize an actual playground. I would propose that a delegation from the Gabriola PAC provide us with a presentation about what is there and what they want now so that if the current 7.2 million surplus in budget has a balance near the end of school year that a design, tender and construction period could occur in summer of 2019 and be ready for kids starting in September of 2019.

Furtmann - As a single trustee, this cannot be accurately answered. Elected trustees would have to discuss, debate and come to decisions collaboratively as a group. That said, I feel outside play is an integral and important part of childhood and the ability to focus and learn, so I would hope we could find a way to address this as soon as possible.

Grand - It looks as if the playground will never happen. Gabriola’s parents need to stress that this is vitally important.

Higginson - Gabriola’s placement at the top of the list for the playground enhancement really reflects the distinct disadvantage that Gabriola faces under the current method of funding playgrounds. Until recently, playgrounds were only funded through PAC fundraising, and in a small community like Gabriola, that creates a near impossible situation for upgrades. The playground enhancement fund is a new grant that was introduced by the current government and we are unsure how long this grant will be around for. Hopefully long enough to get Gabriola a new playground.

Keller - This depends on whether the Ministry of Education grants us the requested funding to improve the playground. If funding is approved, the design process can begin.

Kimler – No one can promise when, but the fact that it’s number one in the five-year capital plan and the Ministry has made playgrounds a priority - bit.ly/bc-playgrounds – means “sooner, rather than later.”

McKay - Announcements for funding based on the June 2018 submission to the Ministry should be made in March 2019. Completion of playground upgrades after funding announcements is typically one year.

O’Neill - It appears other projects, including re-roofing, would take priority. I assume a look at the third party report on each of the three playgrounds would indicate which school would be completed first.

Robinson - The current board has applied to the Ministry’s PEP program for funding for playground expansions on Gabriola, Mountain View and Fairview in that order. We will hear from the Ministry in March. Assuming they support our recommendation, which I believe they will, you will see a new playground within a year.

Skogland - I understand the importance of having safe, accessible and engaging playground equipment for our students. I value activity as an essential tool for learning. It creates self-confidence, increased ability to focus, and many other physical/mental health benefits. As school trustee, I will ensure this project proceeds in a timely manner and that the community is privy to the progress plan.

Stanley – “When” is primarily determined by the Province based on their approval process.

Sullivan - There has been discussion and a presentation at the board meeting with regards to playgrounds. I do remember Gabriola being first on the list for a playground but did not hear anything that would indicate when that might be. As a new Board of Trustees, those are the kinds of things that need to be followed up on. Again, as I mentioned above, there are many questions to be asked.

Szeler - I am unable to answer this question at this time. I did talk to some of the present trustees and they could not give me a clear answer. Maybe once the election is over and everyone gets back to making decisions, then you could ask the new board that question. I don’t know if I will be part of that board yet.

Wilkinson - Playgrounds are important for schools and the whole community, especially a small community like yours, sometimes as important as academics, so I will advocate for this to happen asap.

If given the choice between doing the $110 million “renovation” of NDSS or a $70 million teardown and rebuild of NDSS - which option would you choose? Why?

Bard - NDSS has been in the sites of several boards. We are long overdue for this school to once again become the flagship of the district. I would prefer the building be replaced entirely. If done as the previous plan recommended, the school would be replaced a section at a time. This method would minimalize curricular activities.

Barron - I believe we always need to make decisions in the best interest of all students in the long term. Short term, bandage solutions around our facilities are not in anyone’s best interest and costs the district more money in the long term. I am committed to making the most informed, collaborative, long-term decisions possible. If given the choice, I would ideally support a rebuild of NDSS. However, there are multiple variables that would need to be considered if elected as trustee before such a decision can be made.

Brzovic - I’m unsure. We need an up-to-date facilities plan that considers our growth patterns/projections, and an analysis of these options should be part of that. Any decision must put the needs of students at the forefront, and be made with input from the community and partner groups.

Finnegan - I would request to see the numbers that reflect these budgets to confirm that renovating existing [facilities] would actually cost 150 per cent more than building new. As someone who works in the architecture industry I would say that typically building a new structure is always a better option for many reasons than renovating existing and upgrading old systems. I would also state that sometimes numbers are presented in a way to direct boards to pick an option that staff would prefer which is why I’d like to see a priced bill of quantities from an estimator for the three options to ensure we are getting the best value for money. At the end of the day, all things being equal, a board would clearly choose the best priced option.

Furtmann - At present, I would personally support the teardown and rebuild option. It’s more cost effective and I feel would be less disruptive to the student population, while leaving them with a new and modern place to learn upon completion.

Grand - In most cases, the renovation did cost more, but there were “conditions” wherein a new building wouldn’t fit the circumstances. NDSS is the oldest in the SD68 District and comes with a lot of nostalgic baggage. The city and the newer, younger residents...want the newer state-of-the-art rooms and new plumbing that is a safer building for community planning purposes and curriculum driven for students. I would not want to be answerable when the big earthquake eventually arrives and the students in the old buildings aren’t secure. The larger community will depend on rallying stations in gymnasiums all over the city and Gabriola too. The SD68 Board offices are definitely lacking (housed in a modified portable) and are not designed in any way that makes “delegates” (parents/guardians) feel they matter. The Board of Trustees actually sits with their backs to the audience, that sure doesn’t indicate inclusiveness or respect. I think the changes to NDSS should include the offices of the SD68 staff and trustees.

Higginson - It might seem like a teardown is the right answer because it is cheaper and that is often where my gut leans to when it comes to the effective use of tax dollars. So, bluntly, the $70 million option. However, I would like to work with the community impacted most by this decision and understand the needs that the school must fulfill going forward. I really can’t imagine a circumstance where spending $110 million to renovate an old building versus $70 million to build a new one would create better learning opportunities. 

Keller - I prefer the teardown and rebuild option as it is less expensive and would result in a new facility which provides greater opportunities for students and better overall value.

Kimler - I choose whatever the Ministry will fund. Let’s work with the Ministry to make it happen – whether a $110 million renovation, $70 million teardown, or a multi-year project, what matters is that it’s done.

McKay - More information would be required in order to choose the most appropriate option between a new or renovated NDSS. Variables such as financial commitments by the school district for each option and public input should also be given consideration when making such a large decision.

Robinson - We requested the whole enchilada [from the Province] but including other less desirable options as well. After that it all comes down to negotiation in February/March when the Province comes down with it’s budget and the Ministry talks to us about their response to our requests.

Stanley - I would choose the $70 million teardown. Besides the considerable difference in cost (which leaves me wondering about the details), building new schools is generally a smarter economic decision than renovations. Rebuilds provide new schools with new components. Renovations are fixed up old schools with old components (e.g. furnaces, windows). Often, older schools are not designed for today’s technology and thus limit the functionality of the renovated building. However, it is those factors that may explain the cost difference.

Wilkinson - I support a full rebuild of NDSS because it’s always more cost effective. This way we don’t need to deal with getting a building up to code and we can keep the students in the old building until the new one is complete.