Last week’s denial of an application for a 30-acre agricultural land exemption for the development of a Sino Bright School international campus has continued to bring a mixed reaction from the community and disbelief from those at School District 47 and City of Powell River.
At Powell River board of education and city council committee of the whole meetings held on Tuesday, November 15, superintendent of schools Jay Yule and mayor Dave Formosa expressed their shock and disappointment with the decision that was handed down the day earlier by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
“We’re extremely disappointed in the decision,” said Yule at the education board meeting. “I’m not sure how much more support you would need from a community to make that application.”
Formosa said, at the city meeting, that he was still in shock about an ALC Vancouver Island Regional Panel decision that came down on Monday, November 14.
“I read the ruling three times,” said Formosa. “You read it and just shake your head.”
Formosa said it was frustrating to know that the government approved the largest ever withdraw of prime agricultural land in the Peace River Valley for BC Hydro’s Site C hydro-electric project, but was not able to support 30 acres on “marginal” land in Powell River.
“They can take all that farming land out of the Peace River Valley, yet they can’t help us help ourselves,” said Formosa.
He added that the panel reached its conclusion that the land should be preserved for agriculture, “even though the land is not that good for farming, even though it would be extremely expensive to prepare it to be farmed and even though the amount of farming you’d actually be able to do with it is quite limited.”
Councillor Jim Palm works at Brooks as a counsellor and said the decision will hit the school hard if Sino Bright decides to look elsewhere. Brooks currently has between 70 to 80 Sino Bright students enrolled in its international education program. These are students who are enrolled in the BC offshore school program; Chinese students studying BC curriculum in the People’s Republic of China.
Part of the requirement for graduation is to spend a semester at school in BC. The plan was to create a campus that would bring 400 students to Powell River.
“I guess the ALC didn’t quite get the idea that the school has to be coherent to Brooks in order for the programs that they wish to share to be seamless,” said Formosa.
Over the past decade, enrolment in the public school system has dropped in Powell River. Palm said the graduating class of 2006 had 300 students in it. The class of 2016 had 180.
The school district needs the additional students from Sino Bright to help provide a wide range of course offerings for all students, said Palm.
“What this decision does to the school district is deny options for students,” he said. “You cannot put programming in place to offer the classes you want based on [135 students].”
Increasing the number of students in the public system is “vitally important to our entire community,” said Palm. “This is not over yet.”
Formosa said the decision whether to maintain the three-year relationship Sino Bright has with Powell River is up to the school now. He said that Yule has contacted Sino Bright owners Yufang Sun and Quan Ouyang in China to let them know that PRSC has not given up yet.
“Just because it was a no there, doesn’t mean that it’s a no,” said Formosa.
At the education board meeting, Yule said there was other PRSC land in the area that could potentially be used, but said he did not know the status of the land. He said one of the main factors cited in the ruling was that there had not been a detailed analysis of the other land options around Brooks.
“Our concern is that for them there might be other options for them outside of Powell River,” said Yule. “There was a real feeling that this would go through.”
Formosa told city council there are a few options that could be explored and he, Yule and PRSC co-manager Scott Randolph have been meeting to present some ideas to Sino Bright.
One option is to petition ALC chair Frank Leonard to review the panel’s decision. After the meeting, Randolph reiterated that option but said he cannot comment on any plans going forward.
“There is definite movement,” said Randolph, “but that’s all I can say.”