The Gulf Islands School District trustees and staff had a lively discussion concerning a project to install a synthetic soccer field at the Gulf Islands Secondary School at their committee meeting day last week.
The board had been asked to apply for a change of use from the Agricultural Land Commission to allow the project to move forward at their November board meeting on Mayne Island. Since the board meeting, which was held on Nov. 13, trustees received an influx of letters from Salt Spring community members about the project.
In June, the board moved to agree in principle with the synthetic turf field project, which originally was to be comprised of a plastic grass with TPE fill, a plastic similar to rubber that is used in toothbrush handles and baby soothers. That idea was changed to a more natural solution of coconut and cork after the board and soccer association received negative feedback about the plastic granules. The field was also originally to be at the “Hydro field” at Salt Spring Middle School, but that idea was changed because the high school could offer better amenities like change rooms.
That field is within the Agricultural Land Reserve. A synthetic playing surface is not a recognized use by the ALC, and to move forward the board, as the owner of the property, will need to submit an application to the commission for a change of use. The soccer association has said they would pay the fee for the application.
Other factors to be considered by the board would be any future costs for replacement. Secretary treasurer Jesse Guy said that moving forward, the board would be counting on having to save money every year to pay for the eventual replacement of the field and that by the time the field replacement is needed the soccer association would still be robust and active in the community. The district entered a funding protection model with the Ministry of Education in June, which allows them to prepare for drastically lower funding than they were used to. The expense would be roughly $15,000 to $30,000 each year. District superintendent Scott Benwell said that was about the same as one educational assistant per year.
The application is an important stage in the project, and could determine whether or not it continues. Benwell said that asking the soccer association to spend the money for the application would make it difficult and awkward if the district decided to change its decision later on in the process.
Part of the agreement in principle was that the soccer association undergo a “fullsome community consultation” process about the project. Benwell asked the trustees to consider whether they thought that consultation had been completed. Options on that front would be to accept the consultation received so far, or to conduct a further consultation at the board level.
Saturna Island trustee Chaya Katrensky explained that she believed further consultation would “be getting the same [opinions].
“We’re going to be getting really strong opinions for it and really strong opinions against it,” she said. “Going through the hoops again in a full public forum is going to bring us back to the same position.”
The meeting ended with a discussion of the board’s role in the project, and the dilemma facing them. Trustee and committee chair Tisha Boulter described it after the meeting as a “right vs. right” issue and that the trustees would be considering their personal positions on the decision in time for the next board meeting on Dec. 11.
Staff will be speaking to physical education teachers and athletic directors at both GISS and SIMS, as well as facility staff.