School committees split on Sidney’s fire hall plan

Saanich school board chair Victoria Martin says the public can ask questions about the issue during their March 4 meeting.

Two recommendations from their committees appear to put the board of trustees for School District 63 (Saanich) back to square one on the subject of a proposed community safety building next to Sidney Elementary School.

On Tuesday, the Finance, Facilities and Technology committee recommended that the board consider whether, and under what circumstances, school land should be sold.

That alone might indicate a willingness to explore the Town of Sidney’s proposal further.

However, the board’s Education Directions committee recommended that further study into the feasibility of the project be rejected.

That indicates a desire to end the speculation and reject the plan for the school property.

For his part, Sidney Mayor Steve Price says he’ll wait and see what the full board of trustees decide at their March 4 meeting.

“The first recommendation didn’t discount it,” Price said. “They have a need for funds to do upgrades to the school.”

The second, he continued, was more definitive but had enough debate to leave the final decision of the board in the air.

Sidney is proposing to use three acres of the nine-acre property at Sidney Elementary School for a community safety building, housing a new fire hall, ambulance station and other services. The site is the Town’s preferred location, based on call volume and volunteer firefighter access, to name a few.

The project overview and feasibility study can be seen on the Town’s website (sidney.ca) as well as the school district’s site (sd63.bc.ca).

Trustee Barb Menzies, chair of the Education directions committee, says the board, before the last civic election, authorized their staff to look into the possibility of selling the land. That was, she said, contingent upon seven stipulations ranging from the Town footing the bill for a feasibility study to the Town holding a public consultative process.

Menzies said she was not satisfied that all of those points were met. She added there are two main points to consider: whether there’s enough information on the project and whether such a building would have an impact on education at the school.

Trustee Jason Price said he would have a difficult time, from an educational standpoint, supporting the plan.

“The committee needs to thank the Town for its work so far,” he said, “but there’s no compelling reason for us to move forward.”

James Taylor, the district’s Parent Advisory Council co-ordinator, added he’s hearing that people feel left out of the process. Trustees Tim Dunford and Elsie McMurphy both stated there are a lot of complex issues surrounding this proposal, requiring further debate.

Menzies accepted trustee Price’s recommendation to not proceed.

Both committee recommendations now go to the full board of trustees for debate.

Mayor Price has said the Town is looking for a clear direction — to allow further work or to stop the discussion of using  land at Sidney Elementary. That would, he said, enable the municipality to proceed with planning and public participation — or reset the plan and have the Town seek out a different site.