Friday, July 18, 2008

News: Pen High battle lands in Supreme Court

The following appeard in the Western News:

By Steve Kidd - Penticton Western News

Published: July 17, 2008 10:00 AM
Updated: July 17, 2008 6:34 PM

The Penticton League of Sensible Electors and School District 67 finally have something in common.

They’re both going to have to wait a little bit longer to find out if a B.C. Supreme Court judge will grant an injunction delaying SD67’s plans to demolish the auditorium and north gym at Penticton Secondary along with the rest of the old school buildings.

After two days at Supreme Court in Kelowna receiving affidavits and hearing arguments from both sides in the ongoing dispute over the future of the Pen High buildings, Justice Geoffrey Barrow reserved decision on the matter, saying he would render a verbal opinion on July 22.

The court proceedings were started by PLEASE after they felt they had exhausted all other means to convince the Board of Education that, separated from the school, the gym and auditorium could still be valuable assets to the community.

One of the main arguments presented to Barrow concerned whether the school board had done due diligence in terms of allowing for public input over the future of the building.

PLEASE lawyer Tom Johnston presented the argument that while there had been public consultation over the planning of the new school, the board of education had not fulfilled obligations for public input regarding the disposition of surplus buildings.

“When assets are built that have a larger public value, they have a responsibility to consult with us,” said Tom Siddon, a PLEASE member, saying that SD67 should not just be responsible to the needs of students and the educational community but to the larger taxpaying public as well.

Given their chance to rebut, Geoffrey Litherland of Harris and Co. argued that during a process spanning several years, a great deal of public consultation had been done. He presented affidavits from superintendent Gary Doi, former board chair Connie Denesiuk, director of maintenance John Hickling and secretary-treasurer Frank Regehr, all of whom were heavily involved in the consultation process.

“It has been a five-year process. There’s been a lot of board work done” said Regehr, who felt they had provided Barrow with a well-researched package of information.

If the court approves their injunction on Tuesday, PLEASE chairman Dave Shunter said the group will begin work on a business plan and ways of raising the millions needed to preserve the old buildings. But if the judge doesn’t grant the injunction, he added, PLEASE won’t be giving up — they’ll just begin work on another plan.

“It isn’t over yet,” said Siddon.

“That’s my bottom line.”