Salt Spring Parks and Recreation could become the lead agency to manage community use of vacant Salt Spring Middle School facilities if the business case makes sense.
Much of the school campus will no longer be needed by the Gulf Islands School District when it converts to a grade K-7 elementary school model on Salt Spring starting this September. Following a vote by the island’s parks and recreation commission on March 16, parks manager Dan Ovington will investigate business plan and partnership alternatives for managing that space in a way that opens facilities to other community groups.
“This is an exciting but also somewhat daunting opportunity for the Capital Regional District and the community,” said Salt Spring electoral area director Gary Holman when announcing the news during the Islands Trust meeting last Tuesday.
Holman noted Salt Spring Parks and Rec has experience managing recreational programming for others. There will be significant costs to operating the facility, however, which could include some or most parts of two separate classroom blocks, so staff will need to examine the potential for rental revenue.
“It certainly makes sense for the CRD to hold a tenure, but the devil is in the details,” Holman said.
Considerable public interest in the space has already been expressed, including through the formation of a new umbrella arts organization in 2020. The Salt Spring Community Performing Arts Society (SSCPAS) coalesced around the need for a central space large enough to accommodate equipment, set and costume storage plus rehearsal space for multiple member groups. The society now has 16 member organizations representing island theatre companies and schools, dance schools, bands and choirs.
Those groups account for 545 rehearsal dates in a year, and a total of 109 performance dates.
Visual arts groups such as the Salt Spring Arts Council have expressed interest as well. Sports-related programs for youth such as Salt Spring Gymnastics and Tsunami Circus are also looking for options for practice space and equipment storage.
SSCPAS had originally pitched the idea to the school board that they could be the lead agency managing the space, and envisioned renting some rooms at the market commercial rate to subsidize much cheaper rentals for non-profit arts groups.
“There’s enough space there that all of us could get a piece of it,” said Derrick Milton, who chairs the SSCPAS board.
Milton said the north wing of the middle school alone has around 36,000 square feet. The performing arts groups figure just 5,000 square feet could accommodate all of their needs. But without a commercial rent component, community space may have to be subsidized through other means.
“There’s no easy solution, that’s for sure. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, and who’s going to pay for it?” Milton observed.
Having the CRD investigate alternative business case scenarios for the middle school does feel like forward movement, though.
“It seems like Dan and Gary are both pretty positive about at least providing some space for the arts,” Milton said.