The fight over an unbuilt school in Langley’s Routley neighbourhood came to a quiet end Tuesday night (Feb. 7) with a board of education vote approving the deal to swap land with a developer to allow construction of a school in another neighbourhood.
The meeting lasted about 20 minutes from beginning to end.
Rob McFarlane, the trustee who lobbied for a second look at the contentious proposal prior to the November election, cast his ballot for a compromise that preserves a smaller portion of Township-owned land next to the development.
“It would be adequate for a small elementary school,” McFarlane said.
But McFarlane isn’t optimistic the provincial government will ever approve funding for a school at the 70 Avenue and 198 Street location, saying the probability was “at best, remote.”
Trustee Alison McVeigh made the some observation when she opened the brief debate.
“It is highly improbable at this point that it’s going to happen,” McVeigh said.
“The board would have to buy back that property [from the Township].”
In a written statement issued at the close of the meeting, board chair Wendy Johnson said the deal leaves the door open for a school placement “should the need for one be identified through our future long term planning process.”
Only one trustee, Megan Dykeman, voted against the plan.
After the meeting, Dykeman said she opposed the land swap because she doesn’t believe any school property should be disposed of until the district completes its long term planning.
“Irreversible ad hoc decisions that have the effect of pitting neighbourhood against neighbourhood do not serve the district well, in my opinion,” Dykeman said in an email to The Times.
“To suggest that there is a more desperate need for a school in one area of Willoughby at the expense of another is not only unnecessarily divisive, it is inconsistent with principles of proper planning.”
A small group of Routley parents were on hand for the vote.
Ilona Pretorius (pictured) said the smaller site makes a school far less likely.
“There isn’t enough space according to the current rules for the school district to have a school there, so keeping that ‘carrot’ available for people to think that there might be something is not really playing fair,” a disappointed Pretorius told The Times.
Hank Der said the residents proved they “deserved” a school.
Der added he hopes the school district has learned a lesson about the need for better communication with parents, many of whom didn’t learns about the land swap until a development sign was posted on the land.
“The challenge is that when decisions are made, and not in consultation with the public, there’s a disconnect in terms of the need and justification and the end result,” Der said.
He went on to say that the district needs to make more of an effort to coordinate with parents and the Township if it wants to avoid situations like the controversy that erupted over Routley.
“Right now, it seems to be a fragmented process where communities are being positioned against each other and that’s unfortunate,” Der said.