January 5/21: SD61 Vic High / Caledonia Land Disposal Vote Abruptly Cancelled

The Vic High / Caledonia lands project has been underway in public since November 2018, although Victoria resident Esther Callo has gained additional pertinent information from FOIs: “Emails starting on August 1, 2017 between former School District 61 Secretary-Treasurer, Mark Walsh, and Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) Development Manager Paul Kitson regarding the proposed Caledonia Housing Project on Vic High land, reveal that poor planning led to the undisclosed decision to cancel Vic High’s promised metric track—a track that requires a significantly larger footprint than the current yard track.” (Focus Magazine, August 27, 2020)

Callo has placed much more related information on the Spaces and Ethical Engagement site.

 

November 26, 2019 statement from the Board:

The Board has advanced the following arrangements subject to concluding negotiation, Ministry approval, and City of Victoria zoning approval:

  • The District and City of Victoria will exchange lands that are surplus to the District’s future educational needs in return for land closer to the school
  • The District will lease 2.15 acres of that land to the Capital Regional Housing Corporation for the purpose of affordable housing by developing the Caledonia Project
  • The lease will be for 60 years
  • The lease payment of $4.1 – $4.5 million will pay for the seismic upgrade shortfall of $2.6 million and amenity enhancements at Victoria High.

 

Stephen Dorsey of Friends of Vic High , December 14, 2020:

The Greater Victoria School District 61’s (SD61) long-awaited report made public Dec. 7, 2020, cites the appropriation of $2M from Vic High’s seismic upgrade budget. This was used to offset S.J. Burnside Educational Centre’s multi-million-dollar cost overruns.*

*https://pub-sd61.escribemeetings.com/FileStream.ashx?DocumentId=420 Page 76 on.

The document details how $2M was appropriated from Vic High’s budget and shifted to Burnside to make up for that project’s cost overrun. SD61 then claimed the Vic High shortfall as the reason they undertook the proposed lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land to offset the $2M shortfall. 

The report throws into question SD61’s claim that the lease of over 2 acres of Vic High land to the Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) was necessary to pay for a shortfall arising from Vic High’s seismic upgrade and heritage preservation. This project includes the long-promised Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project (MSRP).

“SD61 has publicly maintained that the reason for having to scale back the MSRP was due to the shortfall in the original Vic High budget. The reality is that the shortfall appears to be of their own making,” commented Stephen Dorsey, co-founder of the Friends of Vic High (FOVH).

The new information in part details how SD61 had already negotiated the land for money deal for the housing project before they held the 2018 public consultation on the future of Vic High. Subsequently, the CRHC chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps, asked for more Vic High land (which they received essentially for free) for an 8-metre easement to accommodate the housing project.

At the June and Nov. 2019 public consultations, SD61 did not disclose the additional 8-metre easement, and images shared with the public did not show this change in Vic High land use.

This additional land grab made it impossible to move forward with the envisioned build of the standard, 8-lane metric track and multi-sport turf field on the remaining Vic High land. Not until the fall of 2020 — a year after trustees voted on the 2-acre land transfer and 8-metre easement — was the public made aware of the negative impact on Vic High’s stadium upgrade plans.

“These are the kinds of purposeful moves that erode trust in our public institutions and officials”, noted Esther Callo, co-founder of FOVH. “It is wholly unacceptable that three levels of government would work together to undermine efforts to build long-promised athletic facilities for Vic High students.” 

The FOVH is asking SD61 to rescind their decision to grant the CRHC an 8-metre easement for the proposed development. Returning this strip of land to its purpose as part of the original MSRP plans is critical. This needs to happen so that the project can move forward. 

“The FOVH has been singularly focussed on ensuring that the promise made to Vic High students for the envisioned MSRP is kept. We will leave it those responsible for oversight of SD61 to hold the parties accountable for the self-inflicted financial mess and potential breaches in public trust,” added Dorsey.   

About the Friends of Vic High:

The Friends of Vic High (FOVH) is a group of community advocates and Vic High alumni who are seeking the originally envisioned Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project for Vic High built and delivered as promised. The FOVH’s sole interest is advocating for the rights of current and future students of Vic High as it relates to this project and to ensure equitable treatment and opportunity.

 

December 15, 2020 statement from SD61, as a significant shortfall attached to the rebuild of Burnside School (now SJ at Burnside) became, at least in perception in some minds,  intertwined with the Vic High seismic upgrade Caledonia lands issue:

A motion was not tabled to show future local capital coming back to Vic High because the Board has every intention to use the Caledonia proceeds towards Vic High. When the district allocates upcoming proceeds in Local Capital for the Vic High project, a motion will come forward at that time.

You might be thinking, “This is not actually all that straightfoward”, which is what I am thinking, which is why after initally voting to approve this land swap, I’m relieved that this meeting set for Tuesday January 5, 2021 was cancelled. The in camera / closed to the public (and me) discussion on Monday must have been interesting.

The original vote at B.1, November 2019: For :  Ferris, Hentze, Leonard,  McNally, Painter, Watters
Against: Duncan, Paynter, Whiteaker

 

Here’s what was cancelled, no longer available on the SD61 meetings website:

The Board of Education of School District No. 61 (Greater Victoria) Special Board Meeting
AGENDA  Tuesday, January 5, 2021, 7:00 p.m.  
Broadcasted via YouTube https://bit.ly/3czx8bA

A. COMMENCEMENT OF MEETING
This meeting is being audio and video recorded. The video can be viewed on the District website.

  • Acknowledgement of Traditional Territories
    The Greater Victoria School District wishes to recognize and acknowledge the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, on whose traditional territories, we live, we learn, and we do our work.

 Approval of the Agenda:  Recommended Motion: That the January 5, 2021 agenda be approved.[“Adopted”, but I give up.]

B. PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS

C. SECRETARY-TREASURER’S REPORT

  • Caledonia Covenant, Right-of-Way, Land Exchange, Property Acquisition 7 & Lease Bylaw 2021

 

 

C. PUBLIC DISCLOSURE OF IN-CAMERA ITEMS

 D.  ADJOURNMENT  (Note: There will be a Special Board of Education Meeting on January 7, 2021 for the third reading of the Caledonia Covenant, Right-of-Way, Land Exchange, Property Acquisition & Lease Bylaw 2021.)

 

About Diane McNally