Nicomen Island Elementary today. Kevin Mills / Mission Record.

Close? Sell? Tear Down? The decisions behind Mission’s defunct schools

Fate of several unused schools still to be decided

Nicomen Island Elementary has sat unoccupied for over a decade, waiting for the day it will be demolished and the land handed back over to the province.

Up until a few years ago the Mission School District maintained the building, but stopped once the province handed down the verdict that the land would revert back to them.

Today, nature has largely reclaimed the derelict building – plants climb up the outer walls and swarms of mosquitoes attack those who venture too close.

The century-old schoolhouse was one of four schools considered for sale by the district four years ago, and what exactly will happen to two of those four properties is still undecided.

Nicomen Island Elementary after the Flood of 1948. Photo courtesy of Mission Community Archives.

Stave Falls, the newest school, was reopened in September, 2019. District administrators are recommending the school board keep Durieu Elementary (closed 2011) for a future re-opening, and the province has given the school district permission to sell Cade Barr Elementary (closed 1980) – but no buyer apart from city council has showed any interest, according to Wilson.

RELATED: Four Mission schools could be sold

The decisions on what to do with defunct school buildings are largely a “cost benefit analysis,” said Angus Wilson, superintendent of the district.

“The issue is whether or not there is growth in the school’s [nearby] community,” Wilson said. “At some point the school district looks and goes, ‘Boy, we’re down to you know 30 kids, 20 kids – we need to think about doing something else.’

District decisions are based on the recommendations of the superintendent and secretary treasurer, but the school board makes the final decision.

The district receives grant money from the province for having an open school, but the province cuts off those funds when a school’s population falls below nine students, Wilson said.

“Once you close the school, you have to think, ‘Well, is it going to be open again in the future? Are we a growing community or a declining community?’” he said. “When you start seeing the numbers drop every year you have to start planning, there’s a process with the public … But at the end of the day, the board gets to make the decision.”

There’s a another layer of decision-making as well – the province has give the final go-ahead.

“The provincial government has a lot of say in this because, after all, it’s the taxpayers money.” Wilson said. “They can look at the facility and go, ‘Our demographics show that your city is growing … Don’t come begging for another school from us. You can open this one again.’”

And the province likes to re-purpose unused buildings for other programs, according to Wilson.

For instance, Nicomen Island Elementary initially closed in 1996, but was being used for childcare space into the 2000s.

“Is there potential for another agency to use it that is in the provincial sphere?” Wilson said. “They love that sort of stuff.”

The money received from any sale of the property is dependent on how the district originally acquired the land.

In the case of Nicomen Island Elementary, the property is “Crown Grant Land” meaning it was a direct grant to the district by the province close to 100 years ago, so the district would not see any profit.

“The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development will be solely responsible for any subsequent transactions related to this Crown land property, including discussions with First Nations,” the Ministry of Education responded by email. “Because this process is not a sale, the district will not receive compensation.”

For other school properties, the district could potentially use the sale money to fund other programs and projects, according to Wilson.

“Some of the land we get to own ourselves and we can disposes of it as we choose,” he said. “We can sell the building … take that money and put it towards other stuff [with some limitations].”

Cade Barr Elementary was closed in 1980. Kevin Mills / Mission Record.

Durieu Elementary closed in 2011. Kevin Mills / Mission Record.

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