Proposal to reopen elementary school in Kelowna could displace childcare spaces

School plans spark anxiety

Families in Kelowna’s Mission are anxious about the possibility of losing child-care spaces as the school district evaluates its options to deal with the neighbourhood’s overcrowded schools.

The Central Okanagan School District is currently seeking feedback on the draft of its long-term facilities plan. Within the nearly 80-page document is a recommendation that SD23 reopen Bellevue Creek Elementary School on Raymer Road.

The school was closed in 2002 due to a lack of enrollment and is now leased out to a church, which holds services on Sundays and subleases the space to a pair of childcare businesses.

Rachel Kornelson has operated the Here We Grow Early Learning Centre there for nearly six years now, providing childcare to around 70 children. Jenn’s After School Care also operates on the property.

Kornelson said she found out about the proposal to open the school at the same time as all the families who rely on her for child care.

“Everyone is really concerned, because it’s a lot of spaces lost, if we did lose the centre,” she said. “Right now you have to get on a waitlist as soon as your child is born, or I have people on the waitlist that are still pregnant.”

She said finding a new space that could accommodate them within the same neighbourhood would be "very difficult."

Chris Brunet says his family has been at Here We Go for almost four years now. When he heard that the daycare centre could be displaced, he started looking around for other options and is facing waitlists of 18 months or longer.

“We've started contacting daycares to put our names on waitlists just in case the school district decides to move forward with their plan and we lose our current daycare,” he said.

But according to Kornelson, and the school district, that may be premature.

Kornelson says the school district has said it is open to finding a way that the school could operate without fully displacing the daycare.

SD 23 secretary treasurer Ryan Stierman echoed that when contacted by Castanet.

“We do understand that childcare is a huge need in the community. The school district is definitely here to support and is flexible on looking at how we can move forward and try and keep as many of these supports as possible if the decision is made to reopen the school,” he said.

Stierman noted that the current long range facilities plan is still in draft form and open for feedback until May 19. And even if it is accepted, an entirely separate public consultation process will take place related to elementary schools in the Mission. The board of trustees will also have to vote on the reopening of the school specifically.

Stierman said the three elementary schools in the Mission are currently at 130 per cent capacity and share nine portables between them.

Bellevue Creek Elementary School could take up to 300 students in 12 classrooms and would cost between $500,000 and $650,000 to renovate and reopen. Purchasing 12 more portables would cost the school district $3 million.

He reiterated that the discussions about reopening the school are in the “very preliminary stage.”

Kornelson is also trying to alleviate anxieties with her families.

“I just hope all the parents, that nobody is panicking right now, it is still in the early stages. Remain calm and hopefully it works out in the end.”

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