The Cowichan Valley Regional District has made a controversial $300,000 purchase of an old school property in Saltair that Dir. Mel Dorey calls vital to the future of the community.
"It’s been a long time coming," said Dorey, explaining that it’s been 10 years since the Mt. Brenton Elementary School site was sold to private interests. "We’re not thinking of just this year or next year, we’re thinking of 10, 20, 50 years down the line as the community develops. If you don’t have these facilities in place it’s too expensive to acquire, you can’t at a later time."
Part of the appeal of the 5.5 acre property is the location, right next to Saltair’s Centennial Park. Combined, the two properties have a lot of potential as a hub for the community.
"Historically, these properties provided for a public gathering space, outdoor recreation and community gatherings within the core of Saltair," said a CVRD press release about the purchase.
In 2004 the school was sold to a private buyer, but has remained undeveloped. Recently it was offered for sale again and following several months of drops in the asking price the CVRD was able to snag the property for well below the appraised value.
Dorey said they’re not looking to do anything major with it in the first year, and the daycare that runs out of the old school building will continue to do so.
But there’s lots of potential, and Dorey said he thinks, in spite of some protests from some in Saltair about spending the money, it will be key to the community’s future. The area’s important pieces of infrastructure are its water system and its parks, he explained. "What would Vancouver be without Stanley Park?" he said. "I just couldn’t sit by and not buy it. Even though it’s sometimes hard to convince people about tomorrow or the next day or the next century. You just have to do it."
It’s about having a place where the community can come together, Dorey said.
"At this point in time we don’t have a community meeting place in Saltair, other than the school. So in order to be a whole community you need to have people get together and share thought and ideas and do things together," he said.
The next step will be to create some sort of non-profit society to run the school as a rental space.
There is also community consultation planned.