What’s the best way to re-develop a prime piece of real estate in Fruitvale?
That’s what council will be asking residents now that a consultant has been chosen to help the village come up with a master plan – or an optimal-use guide – for the old Beaver Valley Middle School property.
Part of the proposal, officially titled the “Former Middle School Housing Project Master Plan,” was for the hired experts to hold a charrette, which is a meeting wherein all stakeholders attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions.
“It will be a public open house and it will be hands-on,” explained Kelli Tuttle, acting-chief administrative officer. “We don’t know exactly what it will like look just yet … but we are going to get it happening as quick as we can.”
A master plan is required by BC Housing before provincial funding can be secured. So, with the help of a $25,000 grant from BC Housing and a $25,000 grant from Columbia Basin Trust, the village was able to take this next step.
“We are going to do an overarching plan for the entire area of the school,” said Tuttle. “BC Housing has asked us to get a master plan together so they can envision what this will look like, and how much will fall under their mandate.”
Further, the planning process will factor in the lot’s actual housing capacity, what services would be a good fit on the site, and how many new units should be designated affordable housing.
“It could be duplexes, it could be apartments, it could be a lot of things,” Tuttle said. “That is what the consultant will have to tell us, what do people want. And, what’s our best mix to get the different types of homes, or apartments, sold.”
Through a public foreclosure in January 2018, the village bought the 2.6-acre school property for $149,000. Then earlier this year, the municipality scooped up the remaining parcel for $190,000, so it now owns the full block – or 3.7 hectares of land – between Columbia Gardens Road and Green Road.
“The middle school has been sitting vacant for a long time and it’s in bad repair,” said Tuttle. “The village purchased it because it had been sitting idle for so long, and decided that we need housing.”
She pointed to studies by the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation that reveal the entire region is short on housing, especially affordable housing.
“So we went down this path of a housing project,” Tuttle said. “We are working with BC Housing and the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society to get us started down the right path.”
The school has been vacant since 2003. Besides disrepair, the facility has been subject to vandalism over the years.
The most recent incidents were in September, when windows were smashed leaving broken glass on the ground both inside and outside the school.
Paint was splashed around and there was some indication of squatting. The public works crew has since cleaned up the glass on the exterior of the building and boarded up all the windows.
Tuttle says a $2,500 insurance deductible will help the village by paying the costs of material and labour to board up.
Still on the council table is what to do with memorabilia still inside the old school, such as trophies, plaques and sports uniforms.
According to history provided by the Kootenay Columbia Heritage Society, by the late 1960’s, the two existing schools in Fruitvale were filled to capacity. One was located on Laurie Street and the other was the newly-built elementary school on Columbia Gardens Road.
A new junior high school -the Beaver Valley Junior High School -was constructed further along Columbia Gardens Road to fill the need for more space. In October 1970, Principal Lloyd Wilkinson and staff supervised pupils from grades 8 through 10 as they carried their desks down the street to the new school.
In 1977, two Grade 7 classes moved into the school, leaving one Grade 7 class at Fruitvale Elementary. Subsequent years saw numerous grade re-configurations and name changes as Grade 6 and Grade 7 pupils from Montrose Elementary were moved in.
While the name officially changed to Valley Middle School for the 1993-94 year of study, the final name of Beaver Valley Middle School was adopted in 1994.
By the time the school closed in June 2003, only students in grades 6 through 8 remained. The two younger grades meshed into Fruitvale Elementary School, while Grade 8 students were bused into Trail or elsewhere.
In the summer of 2009, a man by the name of Harry Jung bought the land with the intent to create an international school for Korean students. Residents were incensed when Jung removed 80+ trees from the grounds, then months later, the village filed notice on the land title. At that time, council reported that Jung had failed to meet the requirements for a building permit, though construction had been underway for some time.