Representatives of the City of Fernie met with the Ministry of Education on March 14, to discuss the possibility of expanding Isabella Dicken Elementary School.
Mayor Mary Giuliano had previously written a letter to the School Board.
Isabella Dicken is the oldest elementary school in Fernie. Previously the city had three in operation; Isabella Dicken, Max Turyk, and C.L Salvador aka Ridgemont, where Silver Ridge is now. Those schools were built in the 70s. Isabella Dicken was built in 1964.
“They decommissioned the other schools for financial reasons,” said Mayor Giuliano. “And they kept this one, which was great, because it’s in a nice central location.”
Currently, there are 410 children attending Isabella Dicken. To make space a few years ago, the seventh grade was moved to Fernie Secondary School. There are also four portables at the elementary school that currently house students.
Mayor Giuliano has personally seen a large influx of younger children. After noting the number of young children and expectant families in town, she believes that within the next four years, Fernie will need a new elementary school.
For these reasons, Mayor Giuliano reached out to the Ministry of Education, who said the decision lay in the hands of the school board, as to whether or not Fernie would be placed on the priority upgrade list.
“I raised five children that went to that school, and (now) they’re all adults,” said Giuliano.
The school board has put Fernie second on the list, just after Mt. Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
Mayor Giuliano and all but one councillor met with the school board in Fernie on Wednesday, March 15.
The Mayor led the discussion by thanking the school board for their time.
“I told them why, at this time, I felt that we needed to come before them (school board),” said Giuliano. “One of the reasons was that we as a council get approached by parents from that school quite often, saying, the school is old, there’s a lack of space, the gym is too small, they’re concerned over the age of the school, the lack of space, and concerned that perhaps to make space, they would now think of putting grade six into the high school, and parents are not happy about that idea.”
Giuliano also told the board another reason for the renovation was due to the population increase. The city of Fernie has now reached 5,249, an eighteen per cent increase.
“It’s supposed to be the largest growth rate of a city in Canada,” said Giuliano.
After the school board heard remarks from the City of Fernie delegation, Chair of the School Board, Frank Lento, responded in a way that neither the Mayor or city councilors were expecting.
A four-page response had been prepared, which outlined a proposal that would require the involvement of the province, the city and corporations such as Teck and Columbia Basin Trust.
“He (Mr. Lento) thinks that… Along with this school, should be a community centre that could also be used for a conference centre. This would be able to serve the entire community as a whole,” said Giuliano.
“So that’s a very interesting proposition,” she added. “It certainly has financial implications for the City of Fernie. If we could make it happen, it would certainly be phenomenal.”
Giuliano spoke to the fact that Fernie does not have an official venue that is capable of hosting large conferences of several hundred people.
Although plans are not established enough to foresee a definite cost, Giuliano estimated it would be at least a few million.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” said Giuliano. “You have to look ahead, you have to have a vision, you have to see what is required in the community, and you have to start somewhere.”
The next step is for Lento to come before council with a definite plan, including accurate specifics such as project cost, timeline, fundraising, etc.
“We look forward to have him come and talk to us,” said Giuliano. “I did say to him, I hope it’s sooner rather than later, and he smiled and said yes.”