The replacement of Mount Baker Secondary School may be at the top of the school district’s priority, but it’s not a part of the provincial five-year plan, according to Education Minister Mike Bernier.
The minister, along with Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, SD5 Trustees and local municipal politicians toured the school on Monday afternoon, making stops in various departments. Bernier also spent time meeting with the local board of education afterwards to talk about district priorities.
A new MBSS structure has been at the top of SD5’s list for years now, but Bernier says there isn’t any plans to replace the school within the province’s short-term five-year plan.
“Right now, I can say it’s number one for the school district. When you come to the provincial government it’s always that balancing act of looking at the growth in other areas of the province,” said Bernier, the MLA for Peace River South.
“I mention places like Surrey; we need to be building a dozen schools in Surrey just to keep up with demand, there are 400 portables [there] that students are in right now, so that does put the challenge back to government and the ministry of where do we put the dollars.
“It’s important that we look out in rural B.C. Those discussions need to take place between myself and the school districts. RIght now, it’s not within our short-term five-year plan because we need to look at seismic upgrading and safety for students in the Lower Mainland and other growth areas, but don’t want to leave the impression that we’re not working with the school district for any opportunity we can.”
As part of the tour, Bernier visited the music and drama departments, The Gathering Place—a space dedicate for Aboriginal learning, a biology classroom, a drafting classroom and a robotics demonstration.
A student demonstrated music editing software, while others gave a sneak-peek performance of the upcoming theatrical production of Mary Poppins. A poignant conversation was held inside The Gathering Place, while students also demonstrated the robotics that took part in the Skills Canada competition.
“It was really great to be here to tour Mount Baker today,” Bernier said. “Obviously, it’s an older school, but they’ve done an amazing job when you look inside—the diversity in the classrooms, what we saw today, everything from musical theatre to the robotics, everything we have in this school, I think the area should be very proud of the opportunities they have for students here.”
Frank Lento, the chair of the SD5 board of education, said Bernier also toured Isabella Dicken Elementary earlier, as local officials wanted the minister to see the two schools that need replacing.
“These schools, in terms of the visit to Mount Baker, when he [Bernier] goes through the music department there, and the drama, and the Aboriginal place and the robotics…Mount Baker is in a league of it’s own, and that’s a testimony to the school leadership,” said Lento. “He was so impressed with those programs and that goes without saying.
“Of course, when you see those type of things, it doesn’t help in our agenda of getting the school replaced, but it’s a testament to the staff and leadership of the quality of programs that they do.”
Complicating a replacement of the school is the Key City Theatre, which is attached to the structure of the high school and has a three-part relationship between the Key City Theatre Society, the City of Cranbrook, and SD5.
When approving the construction of a new school, the first part is the minister signing off on it, which allows school boards to begin the consultation process with communities, according to Lento.
That is a process that Lento hopes to start eventually, even though Mount Baker is not at the top of the provincial replacement priorities.
The consultation process would take a couple years anyways, which would hopefully give the government some time to find some funding for a replacement project, he added.