Tuesday March 14, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated March 17, 2023]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
No artificial turf! Tonight the Sooke School District (SD62) board of education approved going ahead with a natural sport field for soon-to-be-under-construction elementary school in South Langford.
While in many school districts that would not be a matter of debate (as most if not all schools have some sort of playing field), in the case of schools in Langford they’ve been somewhat favoured in the last eight to 10 years for getting artificial turf fields with lighting for night use thanks to shared funding with the City of Langford under the city’s former long-time mayor.
Pouting over a letter:
Recent angst about turf vs natural field — much of it expressed on social media this past weekend by angling on non-response by the City to a letter from SD62 which proposed the joint funding, has been directed at the ‘newly elected’ Langford Council. A CFAX radio host went on about it, and drew others in.
Well, the election was in mid-October 2022 which is now already five months into a four-year term. And there’s likely only one way a radio person would hear about getting no response to an SD62 internal letter, and that was from someone within SD62 (board) itself.
No one so far has really looked at the reasons why the new municipal council might be cooling their hooves over committing local taxpayer dollars (collected through property taxes) to the school district (which is funded by the provincial government).
But one Langford city councillor, Keith Yacucha (a business/economics instructor), has posted in social media about that council should undertake a needs assessment, saying turf fields have ‘diminishing returns’.
Priorities have changed, dollars might be tight:
No one is doubting that both the city and the school district have the best intentions of serving the community, but some municipal priorities may have changed.
What may yet come to light is how much of the City of Langford’s budget was artificially maintained at property tax increases of about 2.0% to 2.5% per year. The new council may be discovering some of the dusty corners of 30 years of city governance by a council that barely changed its component parts (same mayor, almost all of the same councillors for three decades).
A recent example was how the budget of the YM/YWCA in Westhills was seriously challenged in its financing with the City having to bail out the YM/YWCA out and go to the trouble of requesting more reports and management analysis. The current Langford Council may be finding themselves with more financial challenges than they expected.
So while the tone at tonight’s SD62 board meeting was to ‘blame’ the lack of communication back from the municipal council, could it be that perhaps the city didn’t want to play ball?
Natural field in tune with environmental awareness:
What has resulted is that the new South Langford school (yet to be named — that process is still in the works after a public meeting to gather name input on February 16) will have a natural grass field. That’s actually more in tune with what this council wants for the west shore, i.e. natural foliage and green spaces.
Some health impacts are possibly associated with artificial turf which is why, in part, that the PEXSISEN Elementary School in Langford went with a natural field while the adjacent Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School went with artificial (as part of the shared community amenity perspective). Artificial turf can’t absorb carbon dioxide or water. Even professional sporting teams are heard to complain about problems with traction compared to natural grass.
A natural field might get muddy in rainy weather but it won’t be damaged by young kids spilling food or digging into it (some of the reasons PEXSISEN went with natural, their principal explained last year).
This council may have managed to not be pressured by the artificial turf momentum, by which suppliers and non-school sports teams have been benefiting.
SD62 does have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Langford (as well as with the City of Colwood and District of Sooke) to essentially seek cooperation between the school board and the municipalities. Those have been seen as very successful, developed under the guidance of SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson a few years ago.
Very likely the spirit of those MOUs are still in place — as no one doubts the good will or intentions of the elected officials in any of the jurisdictions. But any municipal council has a right to guide their town the way they see fit (based on what their voter base indicated and what the community is saying — in this case about natural greenspace and perhaps also heightened transparency).
School must open in Sept 2025:
So while the SD62 position is that due to lack of shared funding with Langford for an artificial turf fields as a “community amenity”, that SD62 must forge ahead on its own. Like in the olden days.
It is a sensible decision at this time, given that the construction bid will be issued tomorrow and the school must open on time Sept 2025. That was the direction pitched first by Vice-Chair Amanda Dowhy and Trustee Cendra Beaton, then echoed by Chair Parmar.
No mention of school naming process:
The quiet elephant in the room was zero verbal mention of the naming process for the new south Langford school, despite the February 15 public community meeting about the new school name.
Agenda Item 7.2 Capital Update did, last night, in print note that “staff are still working through the consultation process of naming the school and once completed, a short list of names will be provided to the Board for their consideration”. As the public consultation was done (online, and receiving emails and letters), the remaining piece is the Indigenous consultation.
A statement from the Sooke School District 62 office was received by Island Social Trends on March 16: “The consultation for the naming of the new elementary school with our Indigenous stakeholders is ongoing. It will be on the agenda once consultation has concluded.”
Top 12 names presented at February 15 town hall:
At the town hall on February 15, SD62 staff and trustees seemed surprised that ‘so many’ people showed up for the naming/design announcement that evening at PEXISISEN Elementary. There was really no design to present (just a dizzying fast-action virtual tour), and the names were posted old-school style on a bulletin board for passive viewing.
As Island Social Trends wrote last month, the school name debate could become contentious. With both a recent former premier and a recent former mayor on the short list of names (Top 12 names from public consultation), there might be an inclination to sidestep both of those for now. There are other schools in the works for future years.
Trustee Beaton brought forward a motion tonight to try and reactivate cooperative conversations between SD62 and the City of Langford Mayor and Council. It was quickly passed, unanimously.
While Chair Parmar tonight said that “social media is not how we do things” he obviously gleaned one of the major points of discussion from this past weekend’s discourse by the public online, that there needs to be a balance between sports and other aspects of life for youth in the westshore.
Tonight he said SD62 will try to balance sports with arts and mental health activities for youth (singling out The Village Initiative and what they doing about youth mental health with the City of Colwood), a drift he may have caught from the impaled social media forum (which is actually a good way to glean public opinion). The Village Initiative also consults to SD62.
Giving a thumbs up at the end of tonight’s meeting, Parmar has perhaps signaled that this is one of his last meetings.
The word in political circles is that Parmar will be standing for the NDP candidacy for the Langford-Juan de Fuca provincial riding (after current MLA John Horgan retires by the end of this month). The next BC provincial election is scheduled for October 19, 2024, which is coming up fast (and Premier David Eby has oft repeated that he won’t call an election sooner than that).
If Parmar runs and wins at the provincial level, that will open a SD62 by-election in 2023. Elections BC has outlined that a school board may go its last year (of a four-year term) with a minimized board, but this will only be the first year of the 2022-2026 term for the current SD62 board.
Parmar was re-elected in the other Belmont Zone (west shore) where also Cendra Beaton, Russ Chipps and Trudy Spiller were elected in October 2022. The Milne’s Landing Zone side of the school district board will not be affected in this scenario; the current Milne’s Landing Zone trustees are Amanda Dowhy (vice-chair), Ebony Logins and Allison Watson.
Tonight Parmar said his current SD62 board is one of the best in Canada (in terms of stretching a dollar), upgrading that from his remarks at the November 1, 2022 inaugural board meeting saying that this was the best board in BC (in terms of diversity and lived experience).
===== RELATED ARTICLES by ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
A school with no name (Mar 15, 2023)
City of Langford will support the Westhills YM/YWCA (Mar 6, 2023)
New Langford middle school opens at 74% capacity (Nov 14, 2022)
‘Best Board in BC’: diversity and lived experience (Nov 2, 2022)
Another new school to be built in west-shore SD62 (June 14, 2022)
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends is a professional news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca . Fully online since mid-2020, Island Social Trends emerged from the extensive groundwork of previous print publications in the west shore: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).
Since 2008, journalist and editor Mary P Brooke has taken a socioeconomic lens to news analysis about the west shore and south Vancouver Island region, including BC provincial news, and national news impacts.
Ms Brooke has been covering news of School District 62 (SD62) at the board and committee level, including attending nearly all of their meetings since 2014. Mary P Brooke was a school trustee candidate (SD62 Belmont Zone – Langford, Colwood, Metchosin and Highlands) in the October 2022 election, as a service to community.