Incumbent Nelson mayor John Dooley says he will push for a replacement to the city’s middle school if re-elected, but some of his challengers say they are “flabbergasted” by his promise.
“I want to advocate for a new school at Trafalgar,” says Dooley.
Mayoral candidates attended an all-candidates meeting at the school this month in front of more than 600 students.
Dooley addressed his concerns about the aging school, which opened in 1928, and the prospect of obtaining a new facility.
“I walked into Trafalgar and it is in dire need of some upgrades,” he said in an interview afterward.
According to Dooley, about 15 years ago the city transferred a piece of land to the school district specifically for the purpose of building a more modern, up-to-date facility.
“I am going to be in contact, when I am re-elected, with the school superintendent and the chair of the board to advocate for a new school at Trafalgar,” Dooley says.
However two challengers for mayor and one current city councillor question Dooley’s promise.
Mayoral candidates John Buffery and Janice Morrison, who were both at the forum, say they were astonished by his comments.
“I was flabbergasted,” says Morrison. “I was speechless. I did go on [the record] as more questions were asked to clarify it is not the role of mayor and city council to be making broad statements. It is the responsibility of School District 8 to set that mandate.”
Buffery, who has attended council meetings, says he was also shocked at the statement especially when he doesn’t recall anything being said around the council table.
“I’ve not heard anything about this issue,” says Buffery. “It came out of nowhere. Those decisions are made outside the jurisdiction that I know the city is a part of.”
A current councillor also takes a dim view of Dooley’s pledge.
Keith Page says it “puts the city in a very irresponsible position.”
“The role of the city’s mayor is to advance the priorities of the city and council,” Page says. “The building of schools is the school district’s role, and is decided by its elected trustees.”
Page adds decisions like this “must come from the table as a whole and council must work with the district, not against it, when advocating to provincial ministries.”
The school district and Ministry of Education say there are strict guidelines for capital projects and municipalities can’t promise to build them without going through this process.They can only advocate for the construction of new facilities.
They say the school district first needs to identify that there is a priority for a new facility, based on the age of the building, and population, then the ministry has to go through an approval process. This process can take a minimum of five years.
Previous efforts by the district to close Trafalgar and build a new South Nelson school on the site were scuttled when no funding came through from the ministry.
According to the school district, it has been waiting for seven years to build a new facility in Salmo, and is still advocating for an addition to house both secondary and elementary students.