Friday, April 20, 2007

Michael Brydon: SONG's feasible and concrete plans

The following was submitted to the editor of The Herald on April 20, 2007, in response to comments made by the chair of the School District 67 board:

A diverse collection of Penticton and area residents calling itself SONG (Save Our North Gym) formed a loose coalition in early March to pursue a simple goal: encourage the City of Penticton to acquire the gym and auditorium made surplus by the Pen-Hi reconstruction and convert the buildings to community facilities. To make City Hall’s job a bit easier, several members of SONG, who can accurately be described as experts, took time to perform a reasonably detailed analysis of the feasibility of saving both buildings (estimated cost: roughly $1.2 million) and map out alternative configurations for the tennis courts and bus loop so that the buildings could be left standing without materially affecting the operation of the new school. We were naturally thrilled when The Okanagan Saturday reported on March 10th that the City of Penticton had reversed its earlier position on saving the buildings and was approaching the school board to discuss conversion of both to community use. However, according to a story in the Western News on March 19th, the board of School District 67 declined to consider any proposal from the city that included the gymnasium. To use the words of the school board chair, Larry Little, “It is still our property and it is still our decision.” In a recent (April 19th) clarification of the board’s position, Mr. Little stated that “no person or group has come up with a feasible, concrete plan to save the building.” I find this statement troubling given the public record. How can the board take the gym “off the table” (Mr. Little’s words) and then argue that no group has come forward? No less a group than the City of Penticton came forward—the school board refused to listen.

I also find Mr. Little’s statement insulting to those in this community who have volunteered their valuable time to come up with a better plan. Members of SONG have contacted individual school board trustees and alerted them to existence of grassroots support for saving both buildings. Trustees know about our website (saveournorthgym.blogspot.com) which outlines our proposal, summarizes news reports, lists supporting organizations (17 and counting), and provides a sample of recent letters critical of the decision to demolish the buildings. The concerns raised by Mr. Little in the April 19th story are also addressed on the website. For example, we report that several employees of the city’s parks and recreation department have told us straight-out that current demand for prime-time gym space in this town exceeds capacity.

We understand that the school district does not want (read: cannot afford) to save the existing gym and auditorium for its own use. However, the school board must understand that these surplus buildings—which, to clarify, belong to taxpayers, not the school board—are unique and valuable assets that we as citizen-owners may want to hang on to. Clearly, the school board has a limited educational mandate and may not always be able to contribute to our larger community goals. However, this does not give the board license to actively obstruct the efforts of the mayor and council (also democratically elected) in their efforts to achieve these goals.

We recognize that our proposal involves changes and these changes will be inconvenient to school planners at this late stage. We apologize for not submitting our proposal earlier; however many members of SONG have been busy working, raising our children and grandchildren, and attending to our lives. Fortunately, one school board trustee, Walter Huebert, has recently written some excellent articles about the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada and the emergence of responsible government in this country. Perhaps Mr. Huebert is willing give the other elected trustees a brief refresher on the inconvenient exigencies of democracy.

2 comments:

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

Michael Brydon said...

Upon reading this now, it sounds to me like I am taking credit for the SONG proposal. I should clarify: I am not a member of the SONG "technical committee" and had no part in developing the new bus route, relocating the tennis courts or, most importantly, estimating the costs of the renovations. I am not an expert in these matters; they are.