The anxiously awaited decision has been made. The doors to Tate Creek Elementary will be closed at the end of this school year. The School District 59 board of trustees voted five to one in favour of the closure at Tuesday's meeting.
"These decisions are always very tough decisions. They become, because of community involvement, very personal to the community," said board chair Richard Powell. "In the big picture looking at what happens in the district, the decision had to be made to close that school."
A review of Tate Creek Elementary was initially undertaken because enrollment at the rural school was under 40 students.
"That was three years ago, so we've been monitoring that for three years and now when they've reached the point of 18 students, that's a concern," said Powell.
Tate Creek's own trustee Wayne Ezeard was the one member of the board to vote against the closure, as he said his vote was representative of his electorate.
"Tate Creek is my constituency, so I'm speaking for those folks that voted for me in Tate Creek," said Ezeard. "I'm not necessarily speaking for all of the rural area because many of the rural area applaud what we're doing, but I'm their voice so therefore I was expressing their opinion."
Powell said from this point the board will engage with the Tomslake community and the Peace River Regional District about the future of the Tate Creek Community Hall.
"We have a Joint Use Agreement with them and it does identify in that Joint Use Agreement what the process is," said Powell. "In other areas the community takes over the hall."
Powell said this was a likely outcome, but there would be the process to go through and a period of transition time.
He said that process could also involve what happens to the school facility. He noted that selling the building would require the Ministry of Education's permission and, similar to O'Brien School in Dawson Creek, it is possible that it could remain empty for later use.
"We have to get permission to sell it if we were to sell it, and that comes from the Ministry," said Powell. "If we wanted to lease it we probably could; it has to go to a non-profit, community group, school, government agency."
With a community consultation held at Tate Creek, as well as PAC meetings and community presence at the board of trustees meetings, there was strong and impassioned response from residents of Tomslake.
"There's always emotional decisions," said Powell. "I think we had enough facts that sort of overrode the emotion. I was principal at that school, so I have a lot of connections to it and know what a family kind of atmosphere you get in those rural schools, so those are always the pieces you sort of look at."
In the end, Powell said the one factor that might have swayed the decision was the presence of enough children that would enter the system to fill that enrollment gap.
Ezeard said despite the number of letters of support for the school and calls to keep it open, there was no statement of children coming into the system in the short term to bring that enrollment up.
"Of course it's disappointing, a lot of work went into trying to keep the school open at our end. We put a lot of resources in there," said Powell. "The people that weren't going there just weren't buying in and putting their children back into that school."
Powell said as early as the next board meeting, there would be discussions around how to smooth the transition for students and parents at Tate Creek.
"We try to make the transition as easy as possible," said Powell. "And children are really resilient."
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