At its regular meeting on April 6, the board of trustees of School District No. 74 (SD74) heard from secretary-treasurer Trudy Rasmuson that the district has met with lawyers to discuss disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary School property to the Ashcroft HUB Society.
At its meeting on March 2, the board made the following motion: “That the Board of Education support disposal of the property through a sale or transfer in fee simple for a nominal fee to the Ashcroft HUB Society, and that staff provide further information at the April Board meeting about possible consideration to ensure that taxpayers and the Board’s interest are maintained in a disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary School property to the Ashcroft HUB Society.”
Rasmuson said that following the March meeting, a lawyer had suggested getting an appraisal of the property, as well as an assessment regarding items that might need to be remediated, such as asbestos and underground tanks. She added that the district hoped to have both reports in time for the next board meeting on May 4.
Trustee Nancy Rempel suggested that the district look into the cost of rezoning and possibly subdividing the property. She noted that Ashcroft, like many small communities, has a lack of housing, and that subdividing the property might be an option. “My thinking was that with a park nearby [the HUB Society] might not need the playing field. It doesn’t hurt to look into that possibility, and it’s a good time to look into it and find out the cost.”
Trustee Carmen Ranta said that at the last meeting, she tried to clarify that she believed the HUB Society requires both the building and the playing fields for their programs, not just the building. “Not having the field would deprive them of that resource, so I’m against the board looking at subdividing.
“I don’t think that [subdividing] was part of the discussion at the meeting when we decided to lease the property,” she said. “It’s against the intent of the original motion to look at possible subdivision at this time.”
Trustee Donna Aljam agreed. “I didn’t hear anything about making that change. It was just suggested that we look at how the proceeds would go and what the next steps might be. We’re not asking about subdividing.”
Trustee Orra Storkan recommended that the board of trustees speak with the HUB Society about the idea. “Is this something they’re interested in doing? It’s not part of the equation, but maybe they don’t want the whole property. I’d support a conversation to see what they think.”
A motion directing staff not to investigate subdivision of the property, and to talk to the HUB Society first, was passed.
Storkan sought clarification about the original motion, specifically the second part regarding ensuring that the interests of taxpayers and the board be maintained. “I don’t know for sure what would be an instance where the taxpayers’ and/or board interests would not be maintained. Members of the HUB might not be understanding it the way we are, or we might not be understanding it the way they are.”
District superintendent Teresa Downs said that from a legal perspective, it meant ensuring that whatever was done with the property in the future after its disposal to the HUB Society did not have a negative effect on the board or taxpayers.
She cited two possible scenarios, adding that they were examples only, and not indicative of anything that the HUB Society was or might be planning.
The first was if the HUB Society, having acquired the property, decided to sell it at a profit and build another facility elsewhere. “The board would be safeguarding taxpayers’ interests, as the property was paid for with taxpayers’ money.”
The second was if the property was subsequently rezoned. “Potentially, if a business was set up within that site it might not align with the values of taxpayers and the board of education. We want to make sure the board’s reputation is maintained, and the lawyer understood this to be part of the motion.”
Storkan said she had raised the question thinking that if the property was worth millions of dollars but was sold for a nominal fee, that might constitute not serving taxpayers’ interests, since the people who paid for the building were not getting a return on their investment.
Ranta said that she felt the lawyer had confirmed her intention with the second part of the motion, which she had proposed: to ensure that if, at some point in the future, the property was sold the profits would go back to the school district rather than to the HUB Society.
“I want to ensure that in any future commercialization of the property, those dollars go back to students in our school district, and if we no longer exist that it goes back to support the public.”