The decision on a controversial land swap by Langley Township council Monday night (and by the board of education on Tuesday) is a tacit admission that the Township, the school district and the provincial government dropped the ball on the matter of providing proper services to people moving into new developments in the Routley area of Willoughby.
The decision calls for land to be set aside for a smaller school, in the event that there are enough students from the area. The school would accommodate Kindergarten to Grade 5 students, which is in line with a plan to build a middle school in Willoughby.
The complex land swap called for the school district’s existing Routley site on 70 Avenue to go to the Township. In exchange, the Township is giving up property for a townhouse development, while the school district acquires a new school site in the Yorkson area, on 84 Avenue, west of 208 Street.
The land swap goes back to 2009, when it was first proposed by the Township. The board of education endorsed it in a secret unanimous vote a month later, in November, 2009. The minister of education signed off on it in October, 2010.
However, information about the land swap was not shared publicly with taxpayers, particularly people who actually live in the neighbourhood. The school district made a half-hearted effort to communicate long after the decision had been made, but only with parents whose kids were already in school. Families with children under 5 were not made aware of the plan.
The province dropped the ball by stopping construction of new schools, at a time when Willoughby was growing rapidly. It finally agreed to fund some new schools last fall. It also mandated full-day Kindergarten, which took much-needed classrooms away from other grades without replacing them.
Because the province holds all the cards when it comes to school capital projects, the Township should have made it clear to developers that new projects which would pump more kids into overcrowded schools would not be considered. This would have put needed pressure on the province. Given the close ties between the majority of Township council and the Liberal government, it didn’t happen.
There has also been an unacceptable lack of co-ordination between the Township and school district, which is completely unacceptable.
The space now being saved for a school in Routley is welcome, but is a stark reminder of how three levels of government let residents down.