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Editorial: Metchosin has plan for future

Times Colonist, July 12, 2017

Metchosin wants to buy a piece of its history and create a piece of its future. The district has its eye on Metchosin Elementary School, which was recently listed for sale for $1.5 million. It has put in a conditional offer in hopes of buying the building for a West Shore arts centre.

If the deal works out, it would be a positive step for the community, ensuring that a site that has served Metchosin for more than a century will continue to be part of its identity.

The opportunity to buy the property came up because the Sooke School District wants to get out of the cost of upkeep and to put the proceeds of a sale toward buying sites for new schools in Langford and Colwood.

The original one-room Metchosin School, built in 1872, sits on the 4.73-acre property at 4495 Happy Valley Rd. It was converted to the Metchosin School Museum in 1972 and received heritage status in 1997.

Metchosin Elementary School, which dates to 1914, is also on the property, although it has not functioned as a school for 12 years. The building is being used by the West Shore Arts Council, Metchosin Soap Works, a seniors’ information and resource centre, and several art studios.

If it’s sold to private owners, its purpose is likely to change.

The site is zoned institutional, and Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said the district doesn’t plan to change that. However, a private purchaser could turn it into a private school or an English-as-a-second-language school.

Ty Whittaker of Colliers International, which is marketing the property, says some groups have already shown interest.

“A whole gamut of groups could fall within the public institutional zone,” he said. “We will be marketing the property locally, nationally and internationally. We find there’s a lot of foreign ESL schools run from Europe or mainland China. They’re a big part of the education groups in Victoria. They might very well be interested in looking at this property.”

While such a school would benefit the district, it wouldn’t be the same as turning the historic building into a facility that would bring residents together and serve the community.

Ranns wants to talk to the school district, Langford Mayor Stew Young and Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton about possible uses that could help the whole West Shore.

“The whole intent is to do some serious visioning as to what it could be from a Western Communities perspective, not just a Metchosin perspective,” he said.

For examples, the district could look to the Saanich Peninsula. The shuttered McTavish Elementary School in North Saanich was sold by the Saanich School District and became the McTavish Academy of Art, housing an art studio, a yoga studio, a dance studio and recreational activities.

With the institutional zoning and the fact that the playing fields are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the Metchosin site won’t be blacktopped or turned into a massive condo development. Determinedly rural Metchosin wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing, anyway.

By putting some creative heads together, Metchosin and its neighbours could ensure that this historic piece of the community will live on.

 

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