A group of concerned citizens believe the natural environment at École Puntledge Park Elementary must not be sacrificed for what they consider to be minimal short-term gain.
The Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group is campaigning to keep the school at 401 Willemar Ave. in Courtenay and not relocate it to Lake Trail School at 805 Willemar, as is being considered by the Comox Valley School District.
At a Jan. 6 presentation at the school, members expressed a number of concerns about traffic and other safety issues. Puntledge is located at the end of a dead-end, no-traffic road while Lake Trail is at a busy intersection.
“That traffic is just increasing,” said Geoff Mummery, whose daughter attends the aboriginal kindergarten program at Puntledge. “As the Arden catchment develops and grows, then all of those people commuting are going to increase that traffic…The dynamic of the neighbourhood would change.”
He notes a ParticipACTION study concluded that nine per cent of children between five and 17 are getting the amount of required daily exercise.
“The reason the numbers have been declining so rapidly is essentially parents driving their kids everywhere — which is a huge problem,” Mummery said, noting the hill from Puntledge to Lake Trail might prevent some students from riding their bikes to school.
He also notes a lack of parking on Willemar and on the school side of Lake Trail Road.
The group conducted a study comparing the number of vehicles at a similar time at both schools. At Lake Trail, it counted 621 non-school related cars passing at the Willemar/Lake Trail intersection, compared to 27 non-related vehicles at Fourth and Willemar, where Puntledge is located.
“The people who have nothing to do with dropping their kids off at school are the ones who are not as focused on their driving,” Mummery said. “It’s a huge problem.”
The group feels that Lake Trail is not suited to smaller children. For instance, it lacks a playground, which is being proposed next to Lake Trail Road.
“It’s designed to be a middle school,” Mummery said.
The group also maintains that budget outcomes are uncertain and that cost estimates, such as retrofitting Lake Trail, are not accurate.
The district says the proposed move and other changes could save about $720,000 a year. However, the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group says this amount is less than one per cent of SD71’s annual operating budget.
The group has proposed various alternative solutions. One idea is to keep Puntledge open and move Navigate (NIDES) to Lake Trail.
“It was great to see the parents put their heads together,” SD71 secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill said. “We were very much expecting and saw nicely considered alternatives to what the board started in October…There will be a report produced by a committee that intends to capture all the discussion since the board started it.”
Horswill is soon leaving the district to take a job with the Vancouver School District. Supt. Sherry Elwood is also leaving SD71. Next month, she takes over as superintendent in Richmond. Assistant supt. Tom Demeo is SD71’s acting superintendent.
The proposed closure of Puntledge is one of five consultations the board created in the fall. The others involve Lake Trail, West Courtenay Grade 7 boundary changes, secondary boundary changes and French immersion in East Courtenay. Each is inter-related.
The next meeting of a Consolidation Working Committee is Jan. 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Puntledge. A report will be submitted to Demeo, who will consider a total of five reports and develop a recommendation to trustees in February.
“At this stage no decisions have been made,” Horswill said.
Keep Puntledge at Puntledge online and written petitions have generated more than 1,000 signatures. A video was released in December. View it at bit.ly/1kTKofu.
The group has also initiated a postcard and door-to-door canvassing campaign. A website is also in the works. For more information, visit their Facebook page or contact members at KeepPuntledge@gmail.com
The public will have an opportunity to address the school board at a March 8 townhall-style meeting. The school board then meets March 15, when trustees could consider a motion on the document.
“The board has different options,” Horswill said. “They could simply refer it to the next board meeting if they want more time to consider it.”