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  • How School District 61’s little-known financial crisis is at the root of the land-use conflict at Vic High

    Esther Callo

    By Esther Callo and Dorothy Field

    WE ARE ANTICIPATING the announcement of the public hearing on the Caledonia housing proposal on the site of Victoria High School. With Victoria’s ever-increasing housing crunch, supporting this proposal may seem the obvious choice, but the issue is more complex than that. Our community is also facing a financial crisis in our public education system, but few are aware of the severity of the problem. The Vic High land-use conflict shows just how deep and wide the problem has grown. 

    Vic High is the oldest high school west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco. In 2018, residents were faced with the choice of tearing down their 1914 school building in order to create a brand new campus (as Oak Bay High did), or doing a seismic upgrade to maintain the heritage facade and the most important heritage interior details. The community clearly favoured the seismic upgrade. 

    The Province provided $77.1 million in funding (including funding for an upgrade to SJ Willis), an exact match with the financial report prepared by consultants. The District has claimed that they are required to make an additional $2.6 million contribution due to the cost of preserving Vic High’s heritage. But to date, they have not substantiated the need for the additional funding, and documents (available at https://www.vichighsaee.ca/) do not support their claim. 

    To address this $2.6M, a relatively modest amount, the District has negotiated a 60-year lease of Vic High land for only $3.3 million after expenses. However, the proposed 158-unit housing complex causes a land-use conflict with Vic High’s long-held plans for a revitalized and expanded track and stadium. During consultations for Vic High’s future, we weren’t told that Vic High’s seismic upgrade could have such consequences. 

    If built, the Caledonia housing proposal will take up more than 2 acres of Vic High’s grounds.



    Architectural illustration of one corner of the Caledonia


    The District, the City of Victoria, and the Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) negotiated a land swap to accommodate the large housing development with no real public consultation. At the first public information session hosted by the CRHC, many neighbours were troubled by the size of the proposal. When we asked about lowered heights or less density, we were told: “That’s the math.” That was our neighbourhood consultation. 

    Another consultation hosted by the District failed to disclose the land-use conflict with Vic High’s stadium plans. And the public was never given options about funding the $2.6M other than a lease of Vic High land. 

    Fernwood has long been known as a progressive neighbourhood, one that welcomes organizations that serve low-income people and those with substance use issues and other challenges. The idea of affordable housing fits into Fernwood’s ethic. But publicly funded education is also a part of our community’s ethic. The community has been split in a hurtful and unnecessary conflict between housing and education. What’s behind it?


    School District 61’s financial crisis

    As they say, follow the money. This spring, School District 61's Secretary-Treasurer Kim Morris gave a public presentation regarding Lansdowne Middle School land disposal (7 acres for $15 million). In it she revealed the District has $278M in deferred maintenance costs; this dwarves the recently announced $7 million in operating deficits. 

    Morris stated that the District receives only $4M annually from the Ministry to maintain facilities, noting, “[I]f we were to apply the $4M to the $278M deferred maintenance, it would take 70 years to ever pay for those and the compounding age and decline of the condition of the buildings occurs during that.” 

    In response to this colossal problem, the District has developed the School Rejuvenation Strategy that proposes to lease public school land for revenue. 

    But much like the annual injection of $4M, the strategy does little to offset the District’s $278M financial crisis. 

    And for Vic High, the land lease proposal quashes important, pre-existing infrastructure plans for Vic High’s 1,000 students. 


    How the financial crisis exacerbates inequity in School District 61

    Vic High is often referred to as our “inner city school.” Its catchment includes James Bay, Fairfield, Rockland, Fernwood, Downtown, North Park, Hillside and Burnside neighbourhoods. It has a high percentage of First Nations, People of Colour, and new immigrants, many from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Approximately 75 percent of students at George Jay Elementary, one of Vic High’s feeder schools, are at risk and systemically marginalized, according to the George Jay PAC. 

    It’s no secret that marginalized communities face barriers to self-advocacy. This disadvantage makes Vic High especially vulnerable to the District’s strategy to lease land to offset deficits. Oak Bay High was not required to make such a sacrifice during its seismic upgrade, even though the school received District funding. 

    Vic High’s facilities have long been neglected. For decades, an upgrade of Vic High’s Memorial Stadium, completed in 1951 in honour of staff and students who died in World War II, has been in the works. Vic High’s yard track was to be upgraded to an 8-lane metric track so students could once again experience the benefits of track and field amenities at Vic High and take pride in their school’s athletic potential.



    The red area approximates the area of land the housing project would need for a fire lane, but that a metric-size track would need as well.


    Teachers know that sports participation builds body, mind, and spirit. They know that sports are often a boon for students who struggle academically. They know that physical success can raise students’ self-esteem and fuel better academic outcomes. Sports can lead to career opportunities and a lifetime sense of well-being. Without a full field and metric track, Vic High kids are at a disadvantage compared to kids at better endowed schools, schools that have sports academies, that host other schools for sports competitions, and draw students from other catchments. The construction of the Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project is needed to keep students physically and mentally fit and to support the development of pro-social skills.  

    Clearly, this is an equity issue. In a time when we are increasingly aware of how easy it is for less privileged kids, BIPOC and Indigenous kids, to be left behind, we must not allow Vic High’s inner-city students to be short-changed. 


    How did Vic High’s plans for a revitalized Memorial Stadium go awry? 

    The Vic High Alumni Association, starting a decade ago, spearheaded the campaign for a revitalized Memorial Stadium at the request of the District and City. The School Board gave unanimous support in 2012. In 2014, the City committed to matching up to $250,000 for the plans that included the metric track; and the public and Vic High alumni donated over $150,000. That’s a considerable amount of support, both in principle and in cash. 

    Unfortunately, while the Alumni continued its fund-raising activities, the School District, City, and CRHC were cutting land deals for the Caledonia housing proposal that undermined the original plans for Vic High’s upgraded stadium. This was months before the public was even consulted about Vic High’s seismic upgrade. (The timing suggests that the proposed lease was not motivated by the public’s choice to save Vic High’s heritage.)

    During the seismic upgrade consultations in 2018, respondents chose school amenities, including athletics, as the “item they valued most,” above heritage protection. (See page 123 of this document)

    In the 2019 announcement about Vic High’s seismic funding, former Minister of Education Rob Fleming committed to a renewal of Vic High’s sports infrastructure. And in Vic High’s 2020 Amenities Survey, teachers chose a new track and field as the school’s #1 priority.

    Yet the Alumni Association was led to believe by the District that beyond the $500,000 they had raised (which was their Phase 1 green-light objective), no other funding would be available. And after Vic High’s Amenities Survey in 2020 (that confirmed widespread support for the upgraded track and stadium), the public was told that the track and turf field were no longer viable due to funding issues.

    But funding had been committed for such projects. In 2017, the BC NDP committed $30 million to fund sports and arts facilities. North Delta Secondary just opened its own 8-lane metric track with the help of the program. 

    Funding is not the issue for Vic High’s revitalized Memorial Stadium plans. A land-use conflict with the housing proposal is the root of the problem.

    In the end, only $700,000 was made available for a reduced turf field and 2-lane walking track.


    Fernwood area discriminated against around green space

    In 2017, the City of Victoria put forward its 25-year Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan. In comparison with other neighbourhoods, its maps show Fernwood with a few tiny and scattered green spaces. The largest is Stadacona Park, which isn’t convenient to central Fernwood. Fernwood is 8 out of 13 in terms of total hectares of parkland, 10 out of 13 in terms of hectares per 1000 residents. 

    The plan states that “public schools, which provide some of the same functions as neighbourhood and community parks, are under the greatest threat of change and potential loss of open space...As the urban density and population increase, demand for parks, open spaces and outdoor amenities such as gathering and social spaces also increase.” 

    Fernwood is one of seven neighbourhoods that have less than half of the City-wide recommended municipal parks’ land per capita. 

    The loss of land to the Caledonia project would put Fernwood even lower on the comparative list of neighbourhood open spaces. As well, Vic High’s catchment area has higher population density when compared to other catchments, and the families whose kids attend Vic High are less likely to have access to private green space of their own. 

    This inequity will only get worse if the Caledonia project is built. (A CRHC fact sheet misleadingly states: “The Caledonia development has enabled the City of Victoria to acquire additional parks and green space to be preserved for future generations, including the existing Fernwood Community Allotment Gardens, the Compost Education Centre and the lots adjoining Haegart Park.” But these already exist—the proposed land swap just shifts ownership from one entity to another.)

    It’s also worth noting that new developments around Pandora and Cook will add to already rising school attendance as they are completed, bringing greater stress on both our schools and our green space. 

    The City seems oblivious to its own 25-year plan on protecting parks and open spaces, though it is only four years old. Should Caledonia be built, we will never see the metric track built, never get that land back. No one suggests that Oak Bay or Mt Doug give up their open space for affordable housing. It is, always and ever, the “inner city” schools and neighbourhoods that lose due to competing needs for space and poor planning.


    Lack of trust: an independent inquiry needed

    Before we can effectively address housing issues facing Victoria and the financial crisis facing the District, we must first address the moral crisis that has permeated all levels of government involved with Vic High. 

    The District has been recently criticized for systemic racism, resulting in Trustee Jordan Watters’ resignation as Chair. Vic High, a school with a high population of BIPOC and economically disadvantaged students, is vulnerable to this problem, one that spans the BC education system, according to a recent report.

    The public can no longer trust that the District, City, CRHC, or Ministry of Education are at arm’s length regarding the proposed lease of Vic High land. The long-term consequences to the quality of education and well-being of Vic High’s 1,000 students, some of Victoria’s most vulnerable and marginalized citizens, need to be our primary concern. 

    The public hearing regarding the proposed rezoning of Vic High land—expected this fall—must be put on hold until an independent inquiry into the land-use conflict involving High’s stadium revitalization project and the proposed lease of Vic High land can be conducted.

    Our kids are our greatest assets. The 1,000 students of Vic High, current and future, deserve fairness and equitable treatment; they deserve a revitalized Memorial Stadium with a full field and 8-lane metric track—as well as a safe school.

    The citizens' group Vic High Spaces and Ethical Engagement's website has a wealth of documentation: https://www.vichighsaee.ca , much of it obtained through Freedom of Information requests. See an earlier comment on the track issue here

    Born and raised in Victoria, Esther Callo is the parent of two Vic High graduates and served on the Vic High Parent Advisory Council for five years. She has a BA (Hons) from UVic and is a passionate advocate of public education. After working for several years as an Educational Assistant in SD61, Esther is currently completing the Secondary BEd post-degree professional program.

    Dorothy Field is an artist working in print-based media and the writer of three volumes of poetry and and three non-fiction books. She's lived in Fernwood for the last 16 years and serves as a director of the Fernwood Community Association..





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    The diagram of the easement seems to be egregiously wrong—perhaps over 200% the size it should be. Based on Vic Map, there seems to be more than enough space for a track. I would welcome others checking my measurements. 

    Did Focus not do any fact checking?

    Fernwood residents have spoken loudly and in overwhelming numbers in favour of this affordable housing development. Offering yet another soapbox for a group who have changed their argument several times does not promote community self-determination. They will say anything to try to kill this project, and come up with a new angle every time they lose on one approach. 

    On top of what I can only assume is willful misrepresentation of the graphic, the argument is incoherent. The lease is fraction of deferred maintenance costs. The equity argument evaporates when you see there is lots of space—if you can even wrap your head around how killing affordable housing increases equity. 

    If these authors care so much about high school sports, there is plenty of opportunity to insist on a metric track in the available space. 



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    Ruben, I believe the public deserves transparency regarding your relationship to the CRHC proposal as an employee of Fernwood NRG.  Fernwood NRG is a stakeholder in the proposed development as a potential provider of childcare services. Additionally, Fernwood NRG, to my knowledge, has an undisclosed interest in a proposed daycare facility on the northeast area of Vic High by the Belfry, negotiated through the School District. Regardless, this proposed use of Vic High green space has been undisclosed to the public.

    Through FOI requests, I have two images of the proposed daycare on the northeast area of Vic High:
    1) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fmEpqPY46uzzQC8jUw9fG3NDuYSFIZRI/view?usp=sharing 
    taken from a larger proposed site plan: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hpAk2YD546mIh339_N4K9-9Em30N9OMo/view?usp=sharing
    2) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RgVp-UujfejJutEi_gpwlD5GBhObTHeB/view?usp=sharing

    The public deserves transparency regarding these proposed uses of Vic High land. If you have concerns about accuracy in public discourse, I would expect that you would be concerned about this information being withheld from the public. Without this information during the 2019 "consultation" process, the public was unable to properly assess the cumulative impact of demands on Vic High land by outside agencies, including Fernwood NRG. Information has been delivered piece-meal, including information about the impact of the proposed 8m easement, giving the public the erroneous impression that Vic High will not be impacted by cumulative demands. 

    In fact, the November 2018 joint release from the District, City, and CRHC made that claim: "The project will not involve or impact the current greenspace areas used for the running track and school grounds on the Victoria High School site.": https://www.victoria.ca/assets/City~Hall/Media~Releases/2018/2018.11.21_MR_CRHC Land Agreement Caledonia Project.pdf
    Clearly, this information is incorrect, and to suggest that the issue is due to Vic High's parking needs, as some have done, is disingenuous.

    As I have explained to you on Local Governance 2.0, the image of the 8m easement as presented in the article is derived from the CRHC's own images of the proposed site. Please see page 14: https://www.crd.bc.ca/docs/default-source/housing-pdf/capital-projects/caledonia-rezoning-booklet-final_19-09-27.pdf?sfvrsn=10569cb_2

    This slide show explains our methods. Thank you for your interest: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1S-ijavk4k1h13gkecVyof-jCMGZANPDo/view

     You're right — the measurement of the 8m easement is not exact, as I have already acknowledged. The original image has a disclaimer to address this issue. The point of the image is to stimulate dialogue about Vic High’s Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project, not to serve as a site plan.

    The image was produced over a year ago, a truly grassroots effort on the part of a handful of citizens working with very little information disseminated during the "consultation" process. At the time the image was produced, the District, City, and CRHC had yet to share images of the proposed 8m easement. Any inaccuracies reflect this lack of transparency, not an intent to mislead the public.

    The point of the image is to show how much area is taken by the proposed CRHC development and the City's proposed 8m easement combined, according to the CRHC’s own information. Any inaccuracies would reflect an overlap of the two demands for Vic High land, not a disingenuous presentation of the proposed 8m easement, or the area in total.

    From the perspective of land-use at Vic High, the combined area of the two causes a land-use conflict with Vic High's pre-existing plans for their Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project and displaces Vic High's required parking onto existing infrastructure.

    If you're concerned about inaccuracy, please look closely at the image shared in the FB chat produced by SD61: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12CH4JIqDZJohvK-MvNXV7RCCCN8ylG_5/view?usp=sharing

     The proposed 8m easement (26 ft) is adjacent to the proposed parking that is shown as 64 ft wide. 64 divided by 26 is approx 2.5. But the proposed parking is not shown as 2.5 times as wide as the 8m easement, throwing into question the accuracy of this government-produced image, the only one produced to date, to my knowledge, that shows the relationship between the proposed housing (not shown, but adjacent), 8m easement, parking, and proposed modifications to Vic High's infrastructure as a result of these pressures.

    I will add that this image was brought to the public's attention due to our group's FOI requests; it was not freely divulged. In fact, I had to make complaints to the FOI office to get it. Will you pursue this inaccuracy on behalf of the public and Vic High students?

    Inaccurate images have also been produced by the CRHC and shared with the public at "consultations" hosted by the District in 2019. The images omit reference to the proposed 8m easement:

    Images from the CRHC Rezoning package that suggest Vic High would be left with a lush green field were disseminated by Affordable Fernwood during the consultation process: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ut0oJJm-VFOPqp0dVguJq66c51DtS0SI/view?usp=sharing
    These images are clearly inaccurate.

    A similar image that omits the proposed 8m easement and parking was shared with Vic High students in 2019:
    In 2019, the District was fully informed about Vic High's parking needs and had already negotiated the proposed 8m easement. Why was the impact of these demands on Vic High's plans for a revitalized stadium, including an 8-lane metric track and full field, withheld from students, preventing them from engaging in critical thinking regarding land-use at their school? The District’s own Long Term Facilities Plan recommends student participation in decisions at their school.

    How can adults ask children to forego pre-existing plans for their school in favour of the proposed housing, as worthy as the cause is, especially when schools in their own district (Oak Bay, for example) with wealthier demographics are exempt from the same austerity measures, while receiving funding from the District for their plans? To pose such a question to high school students that results in inequity in our school district is unethical. To withhold knowledge of this conflict from students and make decisions that negatively impact them without their knowledge — especially when the community has been led to believe that the stadium is moving forward — is immoral.

    I can only conclude that this disingenuous presentation of information to students, and the District's continued neglect to fully inform Vic High students of the issues facing their school, are reflective of systemic inequity and a lack of regard for their humanity and potential.

    Records show that you had the privilege of serving on the Vic High Visioning Group: https://drive.google.com/.../1zOe9J1GYAvWFTV82ifR.../view...

    The upgraded stadium and track were in the top three requests in the Amenities Survey results that you reviewed in the Visioning Group: https://drive.google.com/.../1fgsuwiz.../view...

    They made it to the top three even though the stadium and track were apparently split into two "items" and pitted against each other in the questionnaire: https://drive.google.com/.../1NV15jjq7vRaG24VT2QG.../view...

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    Wow, Esther, you are master of the gish-gallop. 

    "Gish Gallop: When People Try to Win Debates by Using Overwhelming Nonsense"

    Let me be clear what I have seen here:

    I have worked in urban planning and I am a neighbourhood activist, guided by the question of "How can we make Fernwood more awesome?"

    So, I went to the first presentation of this idea of an affordable housing development...in 2018? 2019? I am afraid the pandemic has skewed my sense of time. 

    That first presentation varied from underwhelming to bad, and along with many other people I shared my support for much-needed affordable housing, and also some ideas about how it could be better. 

    Shortly thereafter a meeting was called for those concerned with the development, and since I was concerned I attended. This meeting was organized and hosted by the then-chair of the Land Use Committee. 

    And it quickly became clear the goal was not to improve the project, but to kill the project. Before that meeting a strategy had already been identified, which was to convince the School Board to cancel the land lease, because if this could be accomplished there would be no need to fight rezonings with the City.

    Speakers at that meeting wandered through the usual complaints of traffic and parking, and noise—and then someone actually said it. "The wrong kind of people" would live there. Normally people don't say things like that so directly, but they must felt it was a friendly crowd because they actually said it out loud. 

    Another person actually said, "I do want to live in the past", to live in a Fernwood frozen at the time that they moved here, and bought their house. 

    So this group made many presentations to the School Board and wrote many letters.
    And the neighbourhood turned out en masse at the School Board meeting, and spoke overwhelmingly in support of this development.

    And so you lost that fight. 

    Next was traffic, I think. And so a traffic analysis was done, and you lost that fight. 

    Then there was green space, and parking of course. And so the architects redesigned, and put parking underground to allow for landscaping.

    At every step there was the demand, as you made again in this article, that "the proposed rezoning of Vic High land...must be put on hold."

    Every time one of the demands is met, this group comes up with another one.
    Recently there is the idea that students won't get an education if they don't have a metric track, and the correct response to that is to kill 158 affordable housing units.

    So I wondered how could we do it all? With about 30 minutes work, here is what I came up with:

    Using Vic Map, a tool freely available on the City of Victoria website, I measured the available space as 111.2 m. 
    I googled metric track dimensions, and found the International Association of Athletics Federations Facilities Manual, which shows one common track layout as being 89.3 m wide.  
    I googled and found City of Vancouver parking standards that show two rows of angle parking and a driving aisle can be 13.2 metres. 
    Adding on the 8m easement for fire trucks, and it all adds up to 110.5 m, which leaves 70cm to plant a row of peas to snack on. 

    There is no fight here. You don't have to convince SD61 to act on climate change and reduce parking in order to make space for the track. You don't have to brainstorm with the Fire Department to get creative with access design. 

    Anybody with 30 minutes to google and pencil and paper to add with could have come up with this potential solution. We can have it all, green space and equity and parking and sports and 158 new units of affordable housing.

    But that isn't really your point. The point is to stop change and keep Fernwood frozen in the past. The point is to keep the wrong sort of people out of the neighbourhood. 

    And every time Fernwoodians repeat, again, that we need and want more affordable housing, which we have been saying since 2004, you come up with another complaint that absolutely requires "the proposed rezoning of Vic High land...be put on hold".


    Now, the goal of the gish gallop is to waste time and drain resources, so I am not inclined to rebut all of your links—many of which are broken by the way. 

    I find your fixation on Fernwood
    Neighbourhood Resource Group to be odd, especially since you failed to mention your co-author Dorothy is on the Board of the organization which hosts the Land Use Committee—Focus Magazine had to make that relationship transparent. Furthermore, it is not my job to speak for Fernwood NRG; you can contact our Executive Director or Board Chair for that.

    But I will speak for myself. 

    Many Fernwoodians will remember The Thin Edge of the Wedge, which I opened across the street from the George and Dragon in 1997—20 years before I started working with Fernwood NRG. I have been living within three blocks of the Village since 2012.

    Whenever I go to meetings in Fernwood, I introduce myself as a former Village business owner, a resident, and that I work with Fernwood NRG. At these Land Use meetings, I have been clear that Fernwood NRG has discussed operating childcare. 

    That is not my department, so I can't tell you where that discussion is—but frankly it would be weird if Fernwood NRG was not approached. As a non-profit, we have been operating in Fernwood since 1979. We are the only site in Victoria to be part of the $10 per day childcare prototype program—which has saved Fernwood families thousands and thousands of dollars. It would be very strange to not have discussions with an established, capable, and neighbourhood-based organization that is operating childcare literally across the street. 

    And I am proud to work with Fernwood NRG. In March 2020, the City of Victoria advised all Community Centres to close. We locked down for two weeks and scrambled to develop safety plans. Then we reopened with childcare for essential workers, family support programs, and food and meal programs. 

    I coordinate the Good Food Box, and we were able to turn around federal Rapid Relief funding into bags of groceries and fresh meals within days. Over that summer, dozens of volunteers packed and gave away thousands of bags of produce to people who had been impacted by lockdown. Last winter, Victorians stepped up and wildly surpassed our Gift of Good Food fundraising goals, so this year we are packing fresh produce bags for over 300 families, for all of 2021. 

    I am proud to say that in 2020 69% of that produce came from within 200 miles, and about a quarter of it came from Saanich, supporting local farmers and our local economy. 

    That is the sort of organization Fernwood NRG is, and why I am personally proud to work there. We don't nitpick outdated working documents, searching for ways to derail and exclude. We actually get out with a tape measure, to find ways to help people, build neighbourhood strength, and multiply the awesomeness. 

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    I will gladly spread the news that you think the track and full field is possible.
    The City committed to figuring that out as per a vote from Council in March, 2021. Nothing happened. 
    The City has been involved since the beginning. Why don't you show them your ideas? Hold them accountable. Council doesn't seem to have what it takes. Maybe you do.

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    As I have said before, I have been ringing the alarm bells about the track since the spring of 2019. I had seen the plans of the Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project at a Vic High PAC meeting and knew that there was a land-use conflict because the stadium upgrade is considerably larger than the current footprint: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dzsb5BOmGOWr5jdTQobbzs29RNsL9liC/view?usp=sharing
    But of course, the public wasn't given the plans to properly assess land-use conflicts. The Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project was never mentioned. I had to make an FOI request. So much for transparency. I then, with the help of others, had to figure out the extent of the land-use conflict with the scarce info from the CRHC.

    So, right from the get-go, I was all about the track, but it took me months to get the info together and share it with the public. In the meantime, the public was fed the same false information over and over again until people believed it to be true. It has led to a sense of entitlement over Vic High land.

    It must be acknowledged that support relied on false information. And the more the truth comes out, the more fervent the attacks against it. The public was falsely told that Vic High had a $2.6M funding shortfall, falsely told that Vic High has surplus land (without SD61 conducting any analysis by their own admission — as required by the School Act that overrides the Long Term Facilities Plan), falsely told that there wasn't enough funding for the track and full field, and falsely told that the proposal would not negatively impact Vic High. I still hear some of the trustees repeating this false information.

    We must retain the public school land we have for education because we cannot always be sure of what the future holds. Because of the foolish decision to allow development on Blanshard School land on the premise that Victoria's population was decreasing, George Jay has exceeded capacity and lost programming to accommodate its overflowing population. A large area of their school grounds, where kids used to play, is now taken up by a portable.

    The District has estimated that they need $16M to buy inner-city land in the Vic High catchment area for a new elementary school due to overcrowding at George Jay (see page 14 of the pdf): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R_Vbcji1fgq2Q6P6xtgLSAY627QIPhx9/view?usp=sharing
    What land is available? There's no room for a new inner-city elementary school, let alone a new high school. We need to protect the land we have for education. Keeping Blanshard School for education would have been the fiscally responsible choice, and our community would have been able to avoid the serious issues of overcrowding at George Jay that negatively impact students and their families.

    According to the District's own records, Vic High's catchment population will reach almost 1,400 by 2031, and that figure was estimated using data from a few years ago: 
    see page 4: https://drive.google.com/file/d/12KCN-NzGbvHdsaGx_mkkmX10Mk3xGERS/view?usp=sharing
    Vic High will only have room for 1,000, even with the addition for 200. Within a few years, Vic High will likely need portables. Where will they go?

    It's not about being against housing. It's about using land designated for education wisely. Our community already has a stark example of the issues that arise from rash decisions regarding public school land. Clearly, SD61 cannot be trusted to make sound decisions, and their recklessness is hurting kids.

    If the proposal is relying on false information and a dysfunctional board that's been called out for racism and fiscal mismanagement, surely we need to take another look at this decision.
    The public deserves to know the truth. Surely we can find common ground on this basic requirement of our democracy.

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    I am sure we can agree that schools seem to be fiefdoms within the city, and are not subject to the same rules. I am not sure the City has any power to compel the School Board to build a track. I think that might need to come from the Province. 

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    Fernwood is the wrong place for welfare housing.  The more room we make for penniless migrants, the more of them will continue arriving with ever-increasing expectations for a free ride.

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    You're absolutely right.
    School Districts are a level of government that is not scrutinized enough, including SD61, that has recently been called out for systemic racism and inequity. But like any other level of government, they are supposed to play by the rules, and it's our job to protect the educational rights of kids in our community by holding SD61 accountable.

    A recent CBC article about systemic racism and inequity in Prince George SD57 points out that the BC education system as a whole has issues with systemic racism and inequity: "The authors also write that many of their recommendations do not just apply to Prince George but to the B.C. school system in general." https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/review-of-prince-george-schools-finds-clearly-discriminatory-and-systemically-racist-practices-1.6156868

    Some School Boards like SD61 have become toxic and dysfunctional, which contributed to the Four Nations calling for Trustee Jordan Watters' resignation as Chair of the Board: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/greater-victoria-new-school-board-chair-1.6137009

    Here's an update about Prince George that reveals issues of toxicity on their board: https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Fgoudiestephanie%2Fstatus%2F1437493305479106562%3Fs%3D21%26fbclid%3DIwAR3kjjZ90LYLCiN7kDwH0wWyZmuoQCzYbc8Fy8KDP4YZdnbDDrd7YEtslUs&h=AT24Ljajg9H6gLkrMwykmdwtAtUBLzm4OYRFEa44F9htYI57wg_2iyVvTrRjSJPOcHq-VPgLSOB4uOD-bYXy7Ncbd5YKsitss2nDAae3jK40O8jC_Fsh7dNhYXHVNTSFliSKT_I6

    As for the City, they don't have the power to compel SD61 to build the track, but they have been partners in this project and certainly have strong influence. However, they  don't have the power to modify plans without public consultation, but they did. Check out page 581 - 585 of the CoV June 6, 2019 meeting: https://drive.google.com/file/d/16vccR8nfukFdcR4CceOYTlRO1l4Mj75G/view?usp=sharing

    The City confirmed their support for the original plans of Vic High's Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project in their June 6, 2019 document. See page 581: "In the Strategic Plan, Council has reaffirmed the City's support for a proposal initiated by Victoria High School alumni and administration, to renew their outdoor sport field and related amenities next to the school for the benefit of students as well as the wider community."
    Yet oddly, they presented much modified plans in the image in Attachment B (at the end of the rationale) that don't match the Alumni's plans. Clearly, Council was voting on modified plans, perhaps without even knowing.

    Despite what the District would like everyone to believe, the Alumni did not have the power to modify plans without consultation either. The original plans went through extensive public consultation as per the agreement with the City and the public was asked to make substantial donations based on these plans — right up until the fall of 2020 when our group called attention to the issue.

    Even though the City confirmed in June 2019 their 2014 commitment to contributing $250,000 to the Vic High Stadium project as originally planned, they presented Council with a choice to either fully fund Topaz, or partly fund Topaz in order to come up with the $250,000 for Vic High — but only for the field. See page 584 in the link above.

    The Alumni, after working for years to see the plans become reality, apparently jumped at the chance to get the funding that had been committed to them to see Phase 1 constructed alongside the seismic upgrade. However, email exchanges show that the Alumni thought they were moving forward with the field and that the track would come later, as per the multi-phase approach that is confirmed in the City's June 6, 2019 document.

    What they apparently didn't realize at the time is that the City and SD61 had already negotiated the proposed 8m easement that requires the same land. (And of course, the parking was apparently kicked down the road and considered last of all when the area required should have been secured first, as required by City bylaws.)

    It seems that as far as the City was concerned, they were moving forward sans the track, without telling the Alumni or consulting the public, even though their own documents confirm that public consultation would be required to move forward with the field. See page 583: "
    The next step required for the Victoria High School field project is a similar exercise, which would include community consultation and identifying the cost of constructing the first phase." 

    As we know, the situation was kept secret from the public all throughout 2019 when consultation was supposed to take place regarding the proposed development. In 2020, the District even conducted a survey asking people if they wanted the track and stadium, which was confirmed. But then they turned around and said later in 2020 that there was no $ for it (repeating it over and over again to the public), knowing full well that there was a land-use conflict caused by deals negotiated in 2019.

    So, back to your comment about School Districts. Clearly, the District did not uphold their mandate as a government body to prioritize students in all their deliberations. And quite apparently, the City of Victoria was more than happy to take advantage of Vic High's vulnerability to the District's abandonment of their most fundamental purpose. But you won't see the District trying to get away with it at Oak Bay High because those parents don't face the same barriers to standing up to power.

    That's wrong. We can do better for Vic High students, some of Victoria's most marginalized citizens.
    To date, I believe that far too many people have assumed that School Districts are benevolent entities that can do no harm. The Prince George SD57 report and the dealings in SD61 show otherwise.

    And yes, the Province is welcome to step in and fix this mess any time.

    Thanks for the dialogue Ruben!


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    Hello Ruben

    My first reply to you from Sept 12 is missing some of the text so I'm posting the rest here: 

    The City, CRHC, and, apparently, Fernwood NRG, are relying on the District's narrative about Vic High to justify their claims for Vic High land. However, the District has just been called out for systemic racism and fiscal mismanagement. Are you willing to hang your hat on their judgement?

    Here's still more info about Vic High's Memorial Stadium Revitalization Plans: https://drive.google.com/.../1iYkX.../view...

    Here's a link to a document that reveals the project was started in 2007 at the request of the City and the District: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1J-uXB0Smjb_aRjO1AXyBCU564FEBPTkr/view?usp=sharing

    Note that in this document, the Alumni confirm that "Our only thoughts about 'scaling down' would relate to the Advisory Committee ...  where the elimination of the track, because of land needed for the proposed housing development, has been determined."
    Who was on this Advisory Committee, and with what authority did they make such decisions without notifying the public? Why did the District include the metric track and stadium in the 2020 survey if they were already aware of a land-use conflict? Was the survey a means of leading the public to believe that the proposed cancellation was due to funding issues (rather than a land-use conflict), as reported, even though evidence suggests that funding was available?:

    Recall that Phase 1 of the Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project was confirmed in 2018: “School district officials see the stadium project being established in concert with a needed seismic upgrade at Vic High, secretary-treasurer Mark Walsh said.”: https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/first-strides-toward-vic-high-s-stadium-reno-1.23147660

    Thank you,

    Esther Callo

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    Thank you for highlighting the concerns with this development and tge lack of transparency. As a parent living in catchment, I felt I had no choice but to transfer my child, a competitive student-athlete who thrives with sport, to another school where his needs could be met. All the surveys from parents, teachers, and alumni supported increased athletic infrastructure. SD61 is failing its community.

    It is unconscionable that in a climate of unaffordable housing choices and packed schools that keep spots for international public students over catchment transfers, our public schools do not offer comparable services to students living in different parts of the City.

    This athletic inequity starts earlier than high school: 1) Central Middle school is the direct feeder to Vic High and is the only school in this District to opt out of City Track & Field championships. Why would a low-barrier sport, which is a historical staple across Canadian schools each spring be relegated to an in-house event with no opportunity to excel? I was told by Admin staff that it wasn't worth funding because it would only benefit a few (oh so like band, drama, art, etc). 2) Central recently withdrew from offering school soccer, without consultation, which was a huge blow to many students. One would think the world's most popular sport would be a no-brainer at a school with a large immigrant population, in an area with limited fields.

    This article hints at how important school sport can be for many students, especially for those who have less access to our pricey, pay-to-play rec sport. The large  bipoc/immigrant students in SD61 are being systematically neglected and taught they aren't worthy and don't deserve the same opportunities as other children down the street.

    Shame on all the parties who aren't actively working to meet the needs of children and designing a project that doesn't disadvantage. This is the primary duty of the school board and use of school land, NOT housing.

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    Hello Tanya

    Thank you for your comment and for your front-line perspective as a parent. Families should not have to move their children to access high quality sports facilities in their public schools. 
    I am especially struck by this heartfelt comment: "This article hints at how important school sport can be for many students, especially for those who have less access to our pricey, pay-to-play rec sport. The large  bipoc/immigrant students in SD61 are being systematically neglected and taught they aren't worthy and don't deserve the same opportunities as other children down the street."

    Here are some actions you can take and share with others:
    1) Join the Friends of Vic High Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/208406680932681

    2) Sign our (hot off the press) open letter calling for an investigation into School District 61:

    3) Sign our petition in support of the original plans for Vic High's Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project: https://www.change.org/savevichightrack

    4) Tell your friends to make a video or write a letter objecting to the proposed rezoning of Vic High land at the public hearing TBA some time in October. We'll keep you updated on the Friends of Vic High FB page.

    Thank you Tanya! Vic High needs your passion and dedication to equity!



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    On 2021-09-10 at 6:43 PM, Guest Ruben said:

    The diagram of the easement seems to be egregiously wrong—perhaps over 200% the size it should be. Based on Vic Map, there seems to be more than enough space for a track. I would welcome others checking my measurements. 

    Did Focus not do any fact checking?

    Fernwood residents have spoken loudly and in overwhelming numbers in favour of this affordable housing development. Offering yet another soapbox for a group who have changed their argument several times does not promote community self-determination. They will say anything to try to kill this project, and come up with a new angle every time they lose on one approach. 

    On top of what I can only assume is willful misrepresentation of the graphic, the argument is incoherent. The lease is fraction of deferred maintenance costs. The equity argument evaporates when you see there is lots of space—if you can even wrap your head around how killing affordable housing increases equity. 

    If these authors care so much about high school sports, there is plenty of opportunity to insist on a metric track in the available space. 



    It seems the image I uploaded has disappeared. Here it is again. 


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    Here are the plans for Vic High's Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project compared to the current track: 973901129_ScreenShot2022-04-14at5_52_47PM.png.5354dcde6a3873b28bafab05f6cf0eda.png


    The plans, that received unanimous support from the School Board in 2012 and were reviewed by the Board in 2018, are not compatible with the proposed 8m easement or the CRHC proposal. This information was withheld from trustees.

    The image you provided above also does not account for the parking that is required by City bylaws, even with the almost 50% reduction that was allowed with a variance.

    The original plans for Vic High's Memorial Stadium Revitalization Project situate Vic High's parking requirements on the former Fairey Tech site because the original plans require the area of the proposed 8m easement and more. According to Vic High's Project Definition Report, the former Fairey Tech site was also intended for the NLC daycare. 

    All of Vic High's land was accounted for with the expansion of the Memorial Stadium that requires 20m to the west of the current stadium, parking, and the NLC daycare.

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