Thursday, August 14, 2008

Anita Fashler: Trustees ignored demolition opponents

The following appeared in the August 11, 2008, edition of the Herald:

News media, as well as trustees on the Okanagan–Skaha school board, have asked where the opposition to the proposed demolition of the Penticton Secondary School gym and auditorium been for the last 2 ½ to four years. Well I will tell you: It has been loud and clear but ignored by the board.

Four years ago I heard Pen Hi was to be replaced and the old school was falling apart, according to the board. So I went on a tour of the school and found, on the contrary, very serviceable structures, especially when looking at the gym and auditorium. In August 2004 I went to see the secretary treasurer of the school board inquiring if there had been any thought to saving valuable assets like the gym and auditorium. He was less than cordial when I asked to see the proposed plans and contemptuous when my suggestion of keeping these buildings was suggested. He told me the bu8ldings were expensive to maintain, in terrible condition and would be torn down.

I was very surprised that a public-officials had such little respect for citizens and certainly left with the impression that he did not want those buildings to remain no matter what. So, I know for a fact there was opposition to the demolition plans at least since August 200r since I voiced it personally.

Many citizens from all ages and backgrounds including teachers, students, seniors, business people and parents put their signatures to a petition asking for a delay in the demolition. Countless letters have been written by Pen Hi alumni, artists performing in the auditorium and Penticton citizens. Most recently taxpayers petitioned the courts asking for a postponement of the demolition. There has been and there still is opposition to the loss of the gym and auditorium. The school board has just neglected to listen.

Some people have remained silent on this issue publicly because they are afraid of retaliation by the board. This is understandable particularly when you see the vindictive way they have replied to the ordinary citizens that dared question their demolition plans in court. They have actually said they are considering asking these people to pay for the board’s court costs. That is a significant sum since the board did not hesitate in hiring a very expensive Vancouver lawyer to prepare their case with your tax dollars.

This school board has been manipulative and untruthful in carrying out its Pen-Hi re-development plan. They have excluded taxpayers. City council has supported the board’s tactics and plans, providing their own lawyer to accompany the board for three days in court in Kelowna. The council is also clearly supporting the South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre by buying property and hiring consultants. So how can the city make an impartial evaluation of the gym and auditorium when they believe their retention conflicts with their SOPAC plans?

Opposition is growing as more people realize what will be lost, excellent public facilities which would take millions to replace. Listen to the public. They have some excellent ideas for using these buildings. Why not incorporate them with the Shatford building which was saved for $4million but without a designated purpose? This heritage building, along with the gym and auditorium, would make a practical and affordable core for community arts and sports activities. City council may not be able to afford a replacement for these buildings for some time since the South Okanagan Events Centre is currently more than $20 million over budget. The gym is a safe place for kids to play and stay healthy after school, providing an alternative to just hanging out around town somewhere. If extra school parking is urgently needed, then tear down the far less valuable Learning Centre and Alternate School and move their services to the empty Shatford building.

The city concil and the school board have acted as if they hold unlimited power and are not answerable to the public. The gym and auditorium should not be demolished at this time. There is opposition, loud and clear. Just wait until the next election.

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