Building a school to benefit a community

It’s been two years since parents in Sun Peaks created the Sun Peaks Education Society (SPES) and launched a mountainside school.

It’s been two years since parents in Sun Peaks created the Sun Peaks Education Society (SPES) and launched a mountainside school. It was no easy task, but for parents whose children get to stay in the resort for their education, having a school in Sun Peaks is priceless.

While many in Sun Peaks help support the school, complaints have been voiced that it will attract more people to the mountain, exposing Sun Peaks’ secret ski runs to a wider population.

“How much is said in jest is hard to measure,” says Kim Holman, a Sun Peaks homeowner with two daughters enrolled at the Discovery Centre for Balanced Education (DCBE). “But I think it’s great for the community to grow and one of the ways to do it is through the school.”

Mayor Al Raine concurs, and has been lobbying on behalf of SPES for funding through School District 73 (SD73) and the Province.

“I think it’s fair to say that SD73 would receive at least double the funding from the Province than it costs to run the kindergarten through Grade 6 school using the facilities we’ve provided,” says Raine.

Having a school in the community attracts young families and for Raine, keeping those families here means taking care of their education needs.

“If we wish to keep people working in the resort we need to make sure their children can be educated,” he says.

Without a community learning facility, a Sun Peaks child could expect to attend four different schools, in four different communities, before graduating from high school. With a school on the mountain, students don’t need to be making those progressively long journeys away from their community.

“People should know that 75 per cent of the parents, currently, are employed in the resort,” explains Barb Kupferschmidt Linder, president of the SPES. “These are people working in the community and wanting their kids to also stay in the community. For our enrolment for 2012-13, it represents over 30 families, not including the inquiries.”

For the 25 per cent of parents who work off hill, the draw of a school made an attractive community a possibility.

“My wife stumbled upon a story by the BBC about the Discovery Centre,” explains new Heffley Lake homeowner Mike Adams. “Had there not been a school here, we wouldn’t have been able to consider (living here), but we’ve decided this is going to be our permanent home.”

He counts the school as a fundamental drive for residents, which in turn bolsters the local economy.

“Look at the small businesses here. If you don’t have permanent residents then the businesses that are there aren’t supported 12 months of the year,” he says.

Holman, too, believes a school is a key economic driver of a community.

“It helps real estate values, there’s more property taxes being collected that the municipality can turn around and (use to) get us some great infrastructure. It definitely helps businesses not only in the busy time, but in the slow time as well,” she says.

Proponents of the school also argue that local schools build a sense of community.

“Schools are often the heart of the community,” says Raine. “When we did the (facilities) survey, people said they wanted to have social rooms, places to meet, a gymnasium, and all those things are often a function of a school in the community.”

While many agree the school is an asset, funding it is no small task. One challenge of funding through donations is the need to ask for support from the same community of donors.

“You have to raise a big amount and because the community is small you’re going to the same people all the time asking for more money and it’s hard to always have your hand out asking for support for the school,” says Holman. “As a parent, I’m really grateful for the many residents that support the school. We really do have a great support system out there.”

In Raine’s mind, having the Discovery Centre funded through tax dollars makes the most sense.

“I would understand why (some people) question having to raise $125,000 through donations when we pay $1.6 million in (school) taxes,” says Raine. “It’s about time we got something back for our $1.6 million.”

Those for and against the school can continue the debate, but one thing is certain: a lot of residents want the school and are willing to support it whether or not they have children enrolled in the Discovery Centre.

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