Still early as TRU explores a downtown campus

TRU considers Stuart Wood Elementary School for a downtown campus amid transparency tensions

Stuart Wood Elementary might be TRU's future downtown campus after it closes its doors in 2016. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Stuart Wood Elementary might be TRU’s future downtown campus after it closes its doors in 2016. (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

TRU says criticisms that the city was not transparent enough with the university’s proposed acquisition of Stuart Wood Elementary are baseless.

TRU VP of advancement, Christopher Seguin, said the city approached TRU only weeks ago about turning the property into a downtown campus. The two parties called a press conference Oct. 3, soon after signing a memorandum of exploration officially recognizing the possible deal.

“It’s harder to be more transparent,” Seguin said.

The elementary school is set to close by 2016. According school board chair Denise Harper, the board assumed the city would then take control of the property, which is also a heritage site, and use it for cultural or community purposes.

The board has since learned that the land must be used for a school, or else ownership will revert to the provincial government due to a clause built into the original 1906 agreement between the city and the province.

“Mayor Milobar said that he was concerned that disclosure of that information would somehow taint or influence the way the board made their decision in respect for [the school’s] appropriateness to be used as an elementary school. I was disappointed that they didn’t share that, because, of course, that wouldn’t have made any difference,” Harper said.

Harper added, however, that given the land-use requirement, TRU taking control of the property would be a good compromise.

“I think that’s a wonderful solution, because it gives the citizens another location to go to access continuing education,” she said.

Denis Walsh is the chair of the Downtown-West End Residents Association, which was formed in response to the school’s closure. The association has been fighting to save Stuart Wood, arguing that it is the only English elementary school downtown, and losing it would dissuade families from moving into the area.

While Walsh said he supports the idea of a downtown campus, he is not sure that Stuart Wood Elementary is the right location. He also said he is not happy with how the city has handled the situation.

“[TRU has] been given the memorandum of exploration and no one else was approached or considered, so I think that’s unfair and I think the city needs to work with the neighbourhood communities a lot more than they are doing at this time,” he said.

Walsh added the association might have explored different avenues to save the school if they had known the land had to be used for educational purposes.

“We’re just disappointed that we were basically sent chasing our tail by the [city] council,” Walsh said.

Neither city council nor Mayor Milobar could be reached for comment.

According to Seguin, the city only recently learned that the definition of “school” included universities, making TRU a viable option to take over Stuart Wood.

Seguin also said that the memorandum of exploration is a tool to enhance transparency and let the public know that a deal is possible. He stressed that no usage agreement has been reached between the city and TRU.

“We’re not only in early days of conversation, but we’re in early days of examination,” he said. “I mean, there’s been no physical examination of the site by any technical experts, there’s been no evaluation of cost or repair or anything.”

While Kamloops citizens have expressed concern that a deal with TRU would lock the community out of future Stuart Wood decisions, Seguin said the university “absolutely” intends to speak with the community as part of the planning process.

“We have a long history of communicating with groups and creating partnerships,” he said. “We’re going to be examining what are the best fits for us in that school and for TRU and the surrounding community.

“You can’t be a good neighbour without listening to the ideas and needs of your neighbours.”