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Esther Callo

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  1. 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?: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XicOQEfThU9zIgIQLMlkKAnQe_kDz8TW/view?usp=sharing 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
  2. 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!
  3. 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 and 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1X8tmsO8eG54rrwyLVWri5XrOB8GpO_EU/view?usp=sharing 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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yXa0jrP6v_wIVHWw1hBF6MmrhkaA81-v/view?usp=sharing 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...
  4. 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..
  5. Posted August 28, 2020 Image: Land use conflict between affordable housing project and Vic High upgrade What happened to the promise of a metric track for Vic High? Go to story...
  6. The Caledonia housing project in Fernwood is causing a land use conflict, pitting educational needs against housing. HOW DID VIC HIGH’S seismic upgrade become subordinate to the Capital Region Housing Corporation’s (CRHC) agenda? In a telephone conversation with the Regional Director of the Ministry of Education’s Capital Management Branch, Damien Crowell, on June 9, 2020, he confirmed that School District 61 had access to government funding to offset the $2.6M shortfall associated with Vic High’s upgrade. Yet the School District chose to lease over two acres of Vic High land for sixty years to the CRHC for the proposed Caledonia project, charging a cut-rate price of $4.1M total. The issue has divided our community in a futile “housing vs education” conflict. For all that, the 1,000 students who will attend the seismically upgraded Vic High are the ones who will pay the price if this questionable deal moves forward. There are many things wrong here. But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on how the project’s need for more space than originally thought has impacted a long-planned and needed rejuvenation of Vic High’s stadium and track. In a recent article in the Times-Colonist, “Thanks for the Memories: Saying Goodbye to Vic High’s Old Stadium,” the omission of one word—metric—previously used to describe the Revitalized Stadium plans for a new track, is the mark of a scandalous cover-up that through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, has been laid bare. Emails starting on August 1, 2017 between former School District 61 Secretary-Treasurer, Mark Walsh, and Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) Development Manager Paul Kitson regarding the proposed Caledonia Housing Project on Vic High land, reveal that poor planning led to the undisclosed decision to cancel Vic High’s promised metric track—a track that requires a significantly larger footprint than the current yard track. The western extent of the old track is outlined within the field area of the new track. The western extent of the new metric track would be the brown area (lanes) on the left, plus the white area. Site plans for Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium were not taken into consideration when the CRHC prepared the September, 2018 Urban Design Brief for the proposed housing. Consequently, the design took shape without reference to the expanded area required for Vic High’s metric track, leading to a land-use conflict that has been hidden from the public. The issue went unnoticed until late March, 2019, almost two years into negotiations. Only after the CRHC took steps to apply for rezoning did they discover that the Caledonia project would require a setback for a fire lane running between Grant and Gladstone Streets along the whole of the western boundary with Vic High property. The discovery put the CRHC in a bind because their design left no leeway, an issue that should have sent them back to the drawing board. However, the CRHC resolved to take more land from Vic High, planting their flag, so to speak, on land designated for the education of 1,000 students. 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. In an email to Walsh dated March 29, 2019, Kitson wrote the following: “I met the City planner today. They asked us [to] include on our site plan something related to [the] proposed track. It helps them decide on variations to setback requirements. Do you have anything that could help such as: 1. Are seating stands being proposed, what kind and location? 2. How far will the track be moved, if at all? Also, I mentioned that we are proposing a 4.5m easement [later increased to 8 metres] on the Vic High property, which needs your approval?” In Kitson’s email, “setback” and “easement” seem to be interchangeable terms, an underlying problem that persists. There are legal issues surrounding the use of Vic High grounds to satisfy the CRHC’s rezoning requirements, not least of which is that the land in question was already slated for Vic High’s metric track. So, what was the School District’s response? On April 4, 2019, Walsh failed to report plans to expand Vic High’s current track: “At this point, we have not incorporated an expanded track in our planning. We will be meeting with a small group to discuss Vic High next week. Jim Soles is the lead on the technical aspects of the project but at this point has little information on what the final design of the field space would be. I do not anticipate significant seating.” Little information? The Revitalized Stadium plans were known to the School District since 2012 and confirmed in presentations to its operations committee and board in January, 2018. To suggest that School District staff had “little information on what the final design of the field space would be” in April, 2019, doesn’t hold water. Moreover, neglecting to reference the Revitalized Stadium plans did not give the School District permission to cancel plans for Vic High’s metric track. Similarly, the CRHC’s assumption that they have the right to take land from Vic High to satisfy rezoning requirements is an infringement on Vic High students. Nonetheless, the School District offered to “grant” the area required for the setback to the CRHC without financial compensation, despite claims of funding shortages, and at the expense of Vic High’s metric track, without public consultation. Was the School District eager to please the CRHC as they are an apparent “partner” in an undisclosed plan to lease parcels of land belonging to as many as 29 schools in SD61? Walsh’s email presents another curiosity: What “small group” was scheduled to meet with the School District to “discuss Vic High?” Here’s a not-so-wild guess: the Vic High Alumni Association Executive. Regardless, the Alumni did not have the authority to cancel the metric track either. Changes to Vic High’s Revitalized Stadium project require public consultation. In 2012, the School Board passed a motion in support of the Alumni’s vision and the School District has actively assisted them in their fundraising efforts. The City of Victoria committed to matching funds of up to $250,000 in 2014. In 2015, MLA Carole James outlined the plans, the donations and grants and sang praises for the project in the BC Legislature. By 2018, the public had donated $150,000. Additionally, the Vic High Alumni Association continues to request donations based on the original plan; therefore, the original plan must be delivered. Here’s the real kicker: After wheedling more land from Vic High, the CRHC produced an image that describes the land (referenced as an “8m easement”) as part of “SD61 Land Remaining After Housing Agreement.” Technically, the land would remain in the hands of SD61 as it’s an easement. However, the document further describes the area as “for educational purposes,” even though the CRHC had already described it as a fire lane and public greenway in their rezoning application. To suggest that this is for educational purposes is disingenuous, especially because it prohibits the construction of Vic High’s promised metric track that is expressly for educational purposes. Shockingly, the CRHC shared this problematic image with the School District who then shared it with the public at the November 12, 2019 public consultation, two weeks before trustees voted on the land transfers that triggered the proposed lease. Apparently, the CRHC was motivated to do so after a citizens’ group presented data to trustees showing that CRHC plans would put Vic High’s land-to-student ratio below Ministry of Education standards. (By their own admission, the School District did not consider area standards before engaging in negotiations with the CRHC.) The image suggests that the proposed housing does not encroach upon the area needed for Vic High’s promised sports infrastructure—but it does. By withholding information about the impact of the proposed housing on Vic High’s metric track, the public was denied an opportunity to voice an opinion about the loss of vital infrastructure for Vic High’s students. The CRHC’s confusing image, and the School District’s retention of information, apparently to effect an outcome in favour of the Caledonia project, should nullify the results of the trustees’ vote that has allowed the Caledonia project to proceed. Transparency issues go right to the core of the proposed Caledonia project. Recall that the rationale for the project rests on the need to offset a funding shortfall of $2.6M for Vic High’s seismic upgrade, and gains its legitimacy from the assertion that the preservation of Vic High’s heritage is more expensive than a new build. However, the timeline of the negotiations for the proposed lease is out of sync with this claim; on Aug 1, 2017, when negotiations began, the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade had yet to be determined, and a funding shortfall was impossible to claim. The proposed lease seems to be motivated by the intent to yield general revenue. Additionally, the Project Definition Report for Vic High’s seismic upgrade doesn’t support the claim of higher “heritage” costs. The difference between “heritage” Option 3 and a new build is less than $1M and the new build option doesn’t include a theatre. However, the most important detail is that as early as 2005, consultants told the School District that a new build wasn’t a viable option, for a number of reasons. In fact, the budget for a new build was developed for the sake of comparison. Above all, School District records show that the model for Vic High’s seismic upgrade was contingent on “full funding” from the Ministry of Education. According to the Project Definition Report, the cost of Vic High’s upgrade is $77.1M (without the additional cost of the Neighbourhood Learning Centre that receives separate funding). Remarkably, on June 27, 2019, Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, announced exactly $77.1M in funding for Vic High. So, is there a $2.6M funding shortfall for Vic High’s seismic upgrade that warrants the lease of over two acres of Vic High grounds for 60 years? To date, the School District refuses to respond to FOI requests for the source of the shortfall, claiming that this information jeopardizes the bidding process for construction. The School District has also stalled on FOI requests for site plans for Vic High’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre. Currently, an investigator from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating this issue. Even under the best of circumstances, the Caledonia project was scheduled to be completed in 2023. COVID-19 has slowed the process even further. The compounding crisis of mismanagement presents an opportunity to leverage a better plan: redirect the $50M already allocated for the construction of 158 Caledonia units to purchase and renovate existing structures now. This plan would also have the benefit of a lower carbon footprint. The BC government has recently purchased hotels to assist unhoused populations. Let’s apply a similar concept to the affordability crisis by providing housing starting now for families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. Students and their families need both stable, affordable housing and fully resourced public schools to meet the many challenges of our uncertain world. Redirecting the $50M meets both needs and offers immediate relief during a worsening crisis. 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. She is part of the citizens' group Vic High Spaces and Ethical Engagement, whose website has a wealth of documentation: https://www.vichighsaee.ca
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