Neglected Qualicum Beach schools could become “whole community” assets with modest investment, Town collaboration

February 7, 2023 – Improving our school grounds may help attract more families and workers to Qualicum Beach. 

Many families and workers considering moving to Vancouver Island are remote workers, usually well paid, who find Vancouver Island more affordable than the urban centres they come from. But they often choose other Island communities because they offer more desirable school environments and amenities for their children. 

Our schools and school grounds are not very attractive to families considering moving here from urban areas, mostly because of what these families are used to in urban centres. 

Anyone into shooting hoops at Kwalikum Secondary School?

The outdoor basketball court at Kwalikum Secondary School is an example of what these families are not used to seeing at schools. The school walls were observed full of graffiti, black mold, and the “Kwalikum Food Forest” well, that’s another story all together.

How do school grounds get so run down?  Where is the community support?

One wonders what goes through a student’s mind when the School District [#69 Qualicum] so badly neglects their learning space. Should our students care for and respect their school when their leadership does not?

There is the potential to use our existing school grounds as a place to invest in our communities. With more families and remote workers, other sources of employment may follow, bringing more families and creating more School District jobs. 

This potential is not being tapped in Qualicum Beach. Other communities have taken a different, more collaborative approach with very successful results, and Qualicum Beach could too.

Envisioning a better future for our community in partnership with our schools

The School District is our largest employer, spends its nearly $60,000,000 operating budget locally, provides well-paying jobs and discounts rent of its buildings to community groups such as S.O.S. (Society of Organized Services).

This potential is not being tapped in Qualicum Beach. Other communities have taken a different, more collaborative approach with very successful results, and Qualicum Beach could too.

The School District is a contributor to our community but could provide even more with Town support and collaboration. 

As a parent in Qualicum Beach, I do what I can to help improve our schools and create opportunities for students and families.  But parents and school funding can only do so much — basically maintain the status quo of the previous year.

Kwalikum Secondary School grounds looking west towards The Gardens seniors housing, KSS at right.

Qualicum Beach should think about using Town funding to help improve our school grounds for use by the whole community — the more children that move here would attract more school district funding, resulting in more jobs and a stronger sense of “community.”

The City of Coquitlam upgraded all their schools’ playgrounds instead of building playgrounds on Town land. 

The collaboration between Coquitlam’s municipal government and school district, aided by provincial funding opportunities, proved very successful. Why couldn’t Qualicum Beach do the same?

School grounds are public property, their land and assets more protected from being rezoned and thereby losing our community investment in these public spaces. 

If the Town of Qualicum Beach invested in School District property here in our community and agreed to fund the maintenance of their investment, not having to use educational funding to maintain that investment would ease the school district budget while improving the attractiveness of our schools and Town to young workers with children — a mutually beneficial relationship.

Potential of Qualicum Beach schools wasted, ignored but opportunities abound

Qualicum Beach is missing an area for families to “recreate together,” as they do in many other communities. Using the land at our local schools for the public to recreate would also encourage new families and workers to move here so their children could attend these desirable schools. 

You may know the controversy with the FSA scores and the rating schools and how parents move locations for communities with higher rankings in these amenities. 

Qualicum Commons school property looking north towards The Old School House art gallery opposite and the former elementary school at left.

Two of our school properties in Qualicum Beach, Kwalikum Secondary School and Qualicum Commons, are very centrally located in Town. They would be ideal locations for family recreation areas, as some of the following ideas demonstrate.

Restore decrepit KSS basketball court

Repairing and maintaining the KSS basketball court in Qualicum Beach would not require a lot of money but the School District simply does not have the budget to do that on its own nor would it be a priority of the School District — especially as it would be categorized as a “general community use” project i.e., not primarily a school priority.

Revitalizing KSS school grounds would give families somewhere in the area to recreate after school and on weekends after going to the QB Farmers’ Market or to the East Village.  All situated together along a bike path, making use of large school grounds that are often empty.

A recent lost opportunity to build on our community’s existing school assets was the money Qualicum Beach committed to Parksville for a running track. KSS is a very central and easily accessible location for our community to have a track but the excitement at KSS now is that the students will soon be able to bus over to the new track at Ballenas Secondary School in Parksville.  Now, Qualicum Beach not only loses families to Comox Valley, Nanaimo, Cowichan, Victoria, but Parksville too. 

Outdoor learning and public gathering space

There is no outdoor learning space at KSS. A large gazebo and public gathering space and playground at Kwalikum Secondary School, funded and maintained by the Town, could be used by teachers for outdoor learning, and also for public events and green space for the community to gather.

One wonders what goes through a student’s mind when the School District so badly neglects their learning space. Should our students care for and respect their school when their leadership does not?

Cinema opportunities for KSS students and community

The Qualicum Beach Cinema Society presented to both the Town and School District. Imagine having the cinema at KSS near the East Village and the Farmers’ Market. 

Students having access to amenities like a cinema for classes would most definitely have parents desiring KSS as a school worth moving for.

Qualicum Commons school grounds offer potential 

Arrowview Elementary in Qualicum Beach and some schools in Parksville are reaching capacity — boundaries had to change for this year. Inevitably, Qualicum Commons will be a school again, maybe not this term or next, but it’s coming.

Some brief thoughts about Qualicum Commons as a school location. It is walkable to the Ravensong Pool and to the trails through Qualicum Beach Community Park, to the ocean, Beach Creek and downtown for classes and afterschool programs — no buses, no extra cost to SD69, healthier for students and less carbon used.

Qualicum Commons, restored as a school, would bring hundreds of people downtown twice a day Monday – Friday.  Quality of life would improve as students and families could more easily bike to school, go to the library, shop and bike home. No driving, less expense for families, less pollution. It would bring life to the downtown — no advertising required! 

Community collaboration is the key

Coquitlam provides yet another example of collaboration between the school district and municipality to build “space for community events.”  

Funding from the provincial government, school district and Town could be focused on our school grounds for community use, at the same time as drawing families and workers to these schools and thus our community, increasing grant opportunities and increasing grassroots fundraising opportunities. 

School PACs (Parent Advisory Councils) are skilled fundraisers and organizers of parents, and they could play a big role in helping achieve a healthier, more engaged multi-generational community. People enjoy investing in children and education.

One way to help bring the Town and school district closer together for future community planning would be for the Town to commit enough of its budget, maybe in parks and recreation funding, to improving school grounds for community use so that it justifies the SD69 superintendent taking time to partake in the Town’s Committee of the Whole meetings, helping to strengthen the bond between our school district, our community and Town planning.