Metchosin offers to buy school
Times Colonist - Louise Dickson, July 11, 2017
The District of Metchosin wants to buy its disused elementary school and turn it into a West Shore arts centre.
Mayor John Ranns said council has made a conditional offer on Metchosin Elementary School, which was recently listed for sale for $1.5 million.
“We’ve just come through this really complex set of negotiations with multi-parties on a land deal with the First Nations in Langford and we’ve had success on that,” said Ranns.
“We’re looking at the same sort of lens with the school. There’s a lot of community potential there, and we’re in the process of looking at how this could be used from a multi-party perspective for the benefit of everybody.”
In the next few months, Ranns will meet with the Sooke School District, Langford Mayor Stew Young and Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton.
The 4.73-acre property at 4495 Happy Valley Rd. is home to the original one-room Metchosin School built in 1872. In 1972, it was converted to the Metchosin School Museum. It received heritage status in 1997.
The property is also home to Metchosin Elementary School, which has not functioned as a school for 12 years. Built in 1914, the building is being used by the West Shore Arts Council, Metchosin Soap Works, a seniors’ information and resource centre and several art studios.
Jim Cambridge, superintendent of the Sooke School District, said the board is selling the school because it’s anxious to buy property in the Langford and Colwood area for a middle school and an elementary school.
“Government expects us to contribute part of that cost for purchasing that property. The proceeds from the sale of this property will go into [the] restricted capital budget, which will allow us to contribute to a future land purchase,” Cambridge said.
Metchosin’s official community plan does not support a lot of development and the school has been closed for years, he said.
“Basically, it’s costing us some money to continue running the school. There’s a bit of an operating liability in keeping it open.”
Metchosin is not going to rezone the property, Ranns said. It is zoned for institutional use, but the grass playing fields are in the agricultural land reserve.
“Institutional” means the buildings could be used for a school, community centre or a single residence.
“There’s not a lot you can do with that property unless it’s a school,” Ranns said. “The gymnasium could be a small performing arts centre. Classroom space could be used for emergency services. We’re also looking at how the school district could benefit as well. The whole intent is to do some serious visioning as to what it could be from a Western Communities perspective, not just a Metchosin perspective.”
These old school sites are unique in their own right, said Ty Whittaker of Colliers International. “It’s not as if we have the ability to sell this to a developer and turn the playing fields into a housing project. The municipality still has control over its highest and best use.”
The property would be right for a private school or an English-as-a-second language school, Whittaker said.
“A whole gamut of groups could fall within the public institutional zone. We will be marketing the property locally, nationally and internationally. We find there’s a lot of foreign ESL schools run from Europe or mainland China. They’re a big part of the education groups in Victoria. They might very well be interested in looking at this property.”
Whittaker said he was involved with the sale of McTavish Elementary School in North Saanich for the Saanich school board. It took three years for “local social entrepreneurs” to buy the shuttered school for $975,000.
He hopes the sale of Metchosin Elementary doesn’t take that long.
“There are already groups showing some interest. We are optimistic we’ll be able to find the right group in the near future.”
Ranns could not say what the conditional offer was because the discussions were held behind closed doors.