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Land deal on Latoria for new schools


Times Colonist - Jeff Bell, May 5, 2017

The Sooke school district, which announced last fall that it had begun looking to buy land for new schools, has a purchase agreement for a parcel on Latoria Road, near Happy Valley Road.

It could house both a middle school and an elementary school, said Sooke school district superintendent Jim Cambridge. The deal involves three pieces of land totalling about 6.5 hectares and hinges on getting the land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Cambridge said an application for removal from the ALR has been filed.

“We have all the papers and we’ve met with the commissioners,” he said. “We’re waiting for their decision now.”

School district officials said in October that they wanted land for up to four new schools in response to an expected enrolment increase of about 1,800 students over the next five years.

The Sooke district’s student population grew by about 520 students in September, bringing the total to about 9,200. The Greater Victoria district grew by about 185 students, while the Saanich district has seen slight increases over the past two years.

Growth in the Sooke district has affected Royal Bay Secondary, where expansion plans are going ahead sooner than expected. There are four portable classrooms at the school, one of two high schools opened in the district in 2015.

But even with all of its space concerns, the Sooke district is considering plans to sell Metchosin Elementary School, which has not functioned as a school for more than 12 years.

“We’ve used it for storage, and we’ve leased it out to Metchosin Arts Council [sic], so they’ve been tenants and are tenants in that building right now,” Cambridge said.

He said the area demographics and Metchosin’s Official Community Plan “don’t really support a lot of student growth in the next 20 years.”

“It’s not an area of growth for us and we have an asset there that’s actually a bit of a liability, because we have to maintain it, and rental rates don’t cover the cost of the maintenance and the utility costs of the building.”

Money from a sale could be used to buy land in areas with more growth, Cambridge said.

The site, which is also on ALR land, has been appraised, but the value is not being released. The school could be up for sale in about a month.

Brena Robinson, chairwoman of the Sooke Parents’ Education Advisory Council, said she’s “thrilled” the district found a site to purchase.

However, she said some people would like the district to think about other options for Metchosin school rather than selling it.