Old schools present new opportunities for Revelstoke
When the Begbie View Elementary opens this September, the Revelstoke School District will find itself in an interesting position. It will be the owner of just as many closed schools than active ones.
The old schools of the Big Eddy, Mountain View and Mount Begbie will all sit mostly vacant or used for other purposes, with only the new high school and elementary school, Columbia Park and Arrow Heights in use.
This presents an interesting issue for both the school district and the City of Revelstoke – what to do with the old school sites.
For the school district, there is an expectation from the Ministry of Education that the district make $2.4 million from selling extra facilities; a provincial moratorium was recently lifted on selling school board properties. With that in mind, the district is looking at selling Big Eddy, Mountain View and Mt. Begbie Elementary schools; and keeping the Farwell school.
“The current thinking is we shouldn’t dispose of every one of our sites because it would be impossible to get a site back,” Anne Cooper, the school district superintendent, told me.
With that knowledge, I went and visited John Guenther, the director of planning for the city, to discuss the city’s plans for those three sites. The city is about to pass a new land-use bylaw and I wanted to get an idea of what was being envisioned for those sites.
In his office, Guenther had two maps spread out representing two land use proposals that were set to go in front of council at its May 8 meeting (after press time). For Big Eddy and Mount Begbie, the land-use was the same in both options.
Big Eddy is set for T4L land use, aka Duplex Residential, meaning moderately low-density residential development is permitted.
Mount Begbie is set for T4 Open – neighbourhood mixed land use, or a village type development as Guenther put it. That leaves it open for moderate density residential and some commercial development.
For Mountain View, there were two options being presented. Guenther’s preferred option is T5 Open, which allows for all sorts of development including three-story apartment buildings, retail spaces, offices and more. “It’s like a downtown development pattern,” said Guenther.
The other option is for T5L – urban residential, or high-density residential development.
That’s just what the land-use bylaw calls for. What actually happens can take on many forms. Guenther showed me some sketches the planning department had laid out, as well as a concept for the Mountain View property laid out by a University of British Columbia Masters’ student.
One drawing showed a ground-accessed apartment building focused around a court-yard. The Masters’ student plans made the Anglican Church on Second Street the focal point, with a promenade going through the old school property from the river to the church.
The drawing he showed me of Mount Begbie shows the school in place, with some high-density housing along Fourth Street. The Big Eddy site did not come up much during our conversation, but he did mention that development there could lead to infrastructure improvements in the neighbourhood.
He also had some images of model streetscapes including one of a pedestrian avenue in Victoria. There were also images of some chalet-style apartment buildings in Banff.
This is an illustrative drawing of a potential plan for the Mount Begbie school site done by the City of Revestoke planning department for the Universal Development Bylaw. City of Revelstoke Image.
“These are illustrative plans,” said Guenther. “The land use is proposing a dramatic shift. You need go through a re-zoning phase.” That would involve public hearings, he added.
That’s when Guenther mentioned one idea that is likely to be controversial – the city buying the property first and creating a development plan before turning it over to a developer.
“That’s one of the ideas we thought of conceptually between the school board and us – who does the planning and how is it done,” he said. “Having control is a good thing when it comes to planning.”
He stressed that any re-zoning would have to go through a public hearing process (land-use and zoning are not the same thing, Guenther likes to emphasize).
The school district and the city have begun meeting to discuss the future of the properties. The goal is to come up with a memorandum of understanding as to what is done with them.
Anne Cooper said that the two concerns she has heard is that some public green space is preserved and that the heritage building of Mountain View Elementary is preserved.
“We really want to work closely with the City of Revelstoke in terms of our land dispositions,” she said. “They are the regulators of land in our community. It’s their responsibility to maintain the OCP, which they have done a very fine job of. They also have set up the zoning and land-use so we will be working very closely with them.”
What do you think should be done with the old school sites? Should they be developed into low or high density housing? Commercial property? Retail? Made into community areas? Post your ideas in the comment section below.