The old Distance Education building on Prairie Central Road will soon have a new use — and not as a school site.
The Chilliwack School Board has voted in favour of relocating a component of the district’s teaching team to the site, at a cost of about $850,000. The cost is mostly for renovations, including asbestos mitigation, a furnace upgrade, millwork, new windows and electrical work.
The Learning Services department has run out of room to operate in its current location at the district office on Airport and Cessna. The department of 65 employees includes a variety of specialists, counsellors and support staff, including hearing, vision and speech specialists, early language learning teachers, curriculum support and Aboriginal educators.
Already, 18 of those specialists have been moved to the Neighbourhood Learning Centre (NLC) to make room at the board office. But space there is going to be needed as enrolment at neighbouring Chilliwack secondary school continues to grow.
Despite moving those staff to the NLC, there is still inadequate space at the district office, secretary-treasurer Gerry Slykhuis told the board of trustees last Tuesday. A redesign of the old Distance Education school will create functional space for 67 staff members, allowing them all to work in a collaborative space, he added.
As a bonus, they are looking at developing a demonstration outdoor classroom for use by students and staff at the site. Additionally, it would free up space at the cramped district office.
While the price tag for the work is near $1 million, Slykhuis pointed out that with the exception of the renovations and painting, much of the work was needed simply to maintain the building for future use. The building is not suitable for an elementary school, he said. But it is a five-acre parcel and there is a possibility of extending the alternate eduction program in the future, too.
Trustee Heather Maahs voted against the project.
“I am very reluctant to support a motion spending $1 million on a building for staff,” Maahs said. “And I wish we had some good concrete examples of how we’d also be able to use this building for the students. This is sort of a pie in the sky idea right now, not a concrete plan.”
Board chair Paul McManus said the district needs to just “gulp and move on and get this done.”
Fraser Valley Distance Education moved into the Neighbourhood Learning Centre, adjacent to Chilliwack secondary school, when the new school was opened in 2013.