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UPDATE: District tries, again, to sell Steveston site

Tough economy may soften policy: De Mello

The Richmond school district is hoping a poor economy and a desperate need for a city centre school will entice the Ministry of Education to finally approve the sale of the former Steveston secondary land to a non-government or profit entity.

The Richmond Board of Education has okayed district staffs bid to once again approach the ministry about selling the site in order to use that money to build a new school in the fast-growing city centre.

The property was put up for sale in 2007 with the caveat the buyer had to be a government or nonprofit organizations. However, after a deal with the city (the only entity to make an offer) fell through, the district opened the sale to the highest bidder later that year.

Offers were received, but the province refused to approve any of the sales because they didnt comply with the ministrys policy that public lands should be kept in the hands of the public, said district Secretary Treasurer Mark De Mello.

But now, given that the economy is tightening up and resources are harder to budget for at various levels of government, we hope theyll reconsider, he said.

However, even if the district does receive ministry approval, it still must work with the city, which controls land rezoning, according to city spokesperson Ted Townsend.

Townsend added that the city continues to have ongoing discussions with the school board and will seek direction in the future from city council, should a redevelopment proposal come forward.

He also pointed out that any changes to the area would have to include community consultation and input and would require both a rezoning and an Official Community Plan amendment.

The current land is only allocated for buildings with school or education purposes, which are no longer required in the area, according to the Long Range Facilities Plan.

Steveston secondary land is considered a school and park site, said Townsend. And the city will make sure that with any rezoning there will be no net loss of park land.

Back in 2007, the city wanted to use eight acres of the land for a long-term care facility and leave the other five acres as a park. But, it was only willing to buy eight of the acres, hoping to make an exchange with the other five.

There is no way we would vote to have that (land) rezoned for development, Coun. Harold Steves had said at the time, after the deal fell through.

There have been other development disputes between the city and school district. Homma and Tomsett elementary schools were also contentious, so it remains to be seen the extent to which either party will cooperate if the board approves the sale.

Nevertheless, at this point, De Mello assures the land will be developed for residential or multi-use purposes, not condos or high-rises.

After Mondays board meeting, staff set to work on a package to present to the ministry.

Most importantly, the ministry will be looking for the ability to demonstrate that the district has looked at the long-term needs and wont need a school built in that area in the future, said Mello.

The district has already requested funding for a city centre school to be built. This means that after the Steveston secondary sale request, staff will be waiting for the approval of one of these two funding options.

The total cost of acquisition and building of the new school is expected to be around $40 million, said De Mello.

Property values in the city centre are much higher than in most areas of the province, which makes obtaining ministry funding challenging, according to the report.

The district will spend the next month putting together the package for the ministry and identifying a qualified developer or purchaser for the land. It hopes to receive ministry approval by April.

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