Coquitlam school district eyes land sales

Coquitlam school board is considering selling off this strip of land next to Porter elementary school to help pay for capital projects in Coquitlam. It
Coquitlam school board is considering selling off this strip of land next to Porter elementary school to help pay for capital projects in Coquitlam. It's embarking on a public consultation process this week.

School District 43 is consulting with parents, neighbours and staff about the merits of selling off two strips of school property at a pair of Coquitlam elementary schools to raise funds for capital projects.

Meetings were expected to be held with staff and parent advisory council representatives from Parkland and Porter Street elementary schools yesterday and today, and flyers distributed to neighbours to gauge opinion on the potential subdivision of the lots into 17 single-family properties.

Two drop-in meetings for the public are planned for Sept. 26 and 27, and the district will seek online input as well after the board approved a consultation process at its meeting Tuesday night. A recommendation will be presented to the board Nov. 6.

"It is fairly aggressive but all this has to occur before the city process and it goes to the ministry," SD43 secretary treasurer Rick Humphreys told the board.

Rezoning is required before the district can sell the properties, little more than an acre each, for single-family homes and the board expects the grassy strips next to school fields could accommodate 17 building lots.

While the foray into land development will net only about $4 million, this is a first test of provincial rules that allow districts to dispose of surplus properties, and a model for other districts, according to board chair Melissa Hyndes.

"It could be a test for our other properties," said Hyndes, acknowledging that the district has six closed schools with lands that could be converted into assets for new schools.

A strategic plan developed over three years, but not released to the public because of land value sensitivity, has looked at ways mothballed properties could be used to fund capital projects, such as new schools for Burke Mountain.

Hyndes said the province looks more favourably on capital projects when school districts put up the cash.

"Without donations from school districts, [funding for new schools] is slim to none," said the Port Moody trustee, noting SD43 is facing a demographic shift, with some neighbourhoods emptying of students while others are burgeoning with school-aged kids. "We have taken the initiative to be creative and proactive to generate capital in the areas we serve."

The Parkland site under discussion is approximately 1.26 acres, or 12% of the total site; the Porter Street site is also 1.26 acres, or 15% of the total site. Together, they would generate little more than seed money to fund consultants for big property sales, a reserve fund for longer term projects, such as rebuilding the board office, and for more immediate concerns, such as the installation of fibre optic cable at Coquitlam schools.

"The wish list is long," said Humphreys, who called the real estate strategy a "conversion of assets" rather than land sales.

Under provincial rules, 75% of the money generated through disposal of surplus property has to be spent on capital projects where the land was sold, and 25% is for any local capital projects, school districts wish to undertake.

Three of SD43's closed schools are being re-purposed for school programs, including Vanier, Montgomery and Millside elementary schools in Coquitlam. Six other properties are either leased or not being used; they are Burquitlam, Lincoln and Cedarbrook in Coquitlam and Coronation Park, College Park and Ioco schools in Port Moody.


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