For three-and-half years, parents of school-aged children living in a rural area northeast of Prince George have been pushing for a replacement for the now-demolished Giscome elementary school.
They finally got their wish Thursday when the provincial government announced plans to replace the school as part of a $10 million modular school pilot project.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, speaking at a meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities in Victoria, confirmed the new Giscome facility will be in place for next school year.
The Giscome school replacement has been a priority for me," said Bond. "It is great news for the students and their families that they will be part of the modular school replacement program. We look forward to the new school being in place and ready to welcome students in September of 2013.
Faellon Brandner of Upper Fraser, who has two children now attending school in a portable classroom next to where Giscome school once stood, was ecstatic with the news, the conclusion of a drawn-out battle with provincial school authorities to address the community's concerns.
"I got shivers when I first heard it, it's hard to believe, it's been three-and-a-half years that we've been working towards this and I'm excited," said Brandner, chair of the Giscome parent advisory council.
"This is going to provide stability to our area again and draw more families. It's a healthy area with clean air and it's affordable and I think we'll eventually see more programs and services offered in Willow River. We want to keep the kids in our own community for safety reasons."
Brandner said she would prefer the school to be built at Willow River, seven kilometres west of Giscome, where more of the area's people are now concentrated and where a community water and sewer system is expected to be in place by 2015. Part of the East Line Building Committee, Brandner is also trying to incorporate a community centre/gymnasium to be part of the new school design.
Currently there are 21 students attending Giscome in two portable classrooms, one for students from kindergarten to Grade 3 and the other for Grades 4-7. Including pre-schoolers, Brandner estimates there are 47 children of Grade 7 age or younger in the area, out of a total population of about 370.
School District 57 superintendent Brian Pepper recognizes the extensive work Giscome parents have put in to save their school and welcomed Thursday's announcement.
"We're very pleased," said Pepper. "This is a unique opportunity for the school district, the board of education, the [Fraser-Fort George] regional district and the people of the East Line to work to provide a quality education in the rural context."
Bond and Regional District of Fraser-Fort George Area F director Kevin Dunphy were both moved to tears when they learned Giscome was on the modular school list. Dunphy and other regional district directors set up the meeting for an update on the project, having seen the potential benefits for the area.
The school district was very co-operative in terms of their willingness to participate in this modular program and you guys stepped up to the plate and said We dont necessarily need a traditional build. Were willing to look at a modular replacement, Bond told Dunphy. So were very excited to tell you that the answer today is yes, youre going to get a new school.
The former school building was built in 1957 and closed in June 2009 due to declining enrolment and unsafe conditions due to moisture in its walls. It was torn down this past summer. Area students were sent to Blackburn elementary school in Prince George, 40 kilometres southwest, until portable classrooms were installed on the Giscome site.
One thing I noticed about your region, you not only have a lot of resilience, you have a lot of pride in your communities and in your area, said Education Minister Don McRae.
The modular facilities have a 40-year life span and differ from portables with open design, high ceilings, lots of windows and cross-ventilation. The Giscome modular will also use B.C. wood as much as possible. It's expected the modular building will be about 525 square metres, to be built at cost of about $1.5 million. McRae showed the directors concept drawings of the modular buildings, which will also be built in Nisgaa, Nechako Lakes and Nicola-Similkameen.
Weve worked so hard and theres such dedication from the people in our community pushing that forward, said Dunphy.
Since 2001, the province has invested close to $55 million in School District 57 properties, including replacement schools for Duchess Park and Valemount secondary and additions to Southridge elementary and College Heights secondary.