The old Stanley Gordon school in Lake Cowichan. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette file)

Editorial: Old school properties represent potential for our areas

There are opportunities, often sitting right in the middle of our small communities.

Land is something that is increasingly valuable. Especially land that is centrally located in our communities. Just take a look at recent real estate prices and you’ll go into sticker shock.

This can make it tough for both ordinary people who want to live and work in the community (think small business owners and the people who work for them, and seniors on a fixed income), and local governments looking to improve or revitalize areas through new public amenities like parks, trails and other cultural facilities.

But there are opportunities, often sitting right in the middle of our small communities. Since many have seen schools close in recent years, school properties are ideally situated to continue giving the towns and villages what they need. In many cases, the province and school district may be amenable to taking these old properties off their books, as the ongoing maintenance and security on the old structures is nothing but a drain at this point.

One such case is the old Yount School property in Youbou. A local community group has come up with a proposal to not only use existing buildings on the site for new purposes such as a daycare, visitor accommodations and café as a hiking base camp, but to use the rest of the property to build affordable housing. Proposals such as this are really worth taking seriously. It would provide a great opportunity to help revitalize a community that has struggled to redefine itself since the Youbou mill shut down, with both commercial and residential development.

An old school site in Crofton boasts a stunning ocean view, lies adjacent to the existing community centre and swimming pool, and has tremendous potential.

The old school site at Cowichan Station is a model of the kinds of development that can occur. The Hub, as it is now known, is, well, a hub for the community.

In Lake Cowichan the old Stanley Gordon, A.B. Greenwell and J.H. Boyd properties are also begging for a makeover (thought there are complications with some of the properties, not all of which are still owned by the district).

One hopes that when the offers come in to purchase old school sites that the province and school district will make their decisions on who to sell to not just on the cash involved, but also on the best use of the property for the community going forward.

There’s no sense in holding onto decaying buildings that just become magnets for graffiti and other illicit activities, blank spots in the middle of town. Not when there’s so much potential for them to continue to serve our residents.

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