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No deal with VANOC to rent school space

Proposal too rich for Olympic organizers

Talks have broken off between the Sea to Sky School District and Olympic officials over the rental of school space during the 2010 Games.

The school district had hoped to rent out space in several of their high schools to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games.

But an agreement could not be reached said District secretary treasurer Nancy Edwards, despite the fact that a negotiator had been hired to broker the deal.

"(VANOC) basically couldn't meet the price that we wanted," said Edwards.

The school district's deal included money to cover the cost of operations of the buildings, funds to run programs for students whose parents are working throughout the Games, and some cash for a legacy fund.

Edwards would not reveal how much money the school district was asking for as it is still pursuing other deals for the space with sport organizations.

"We will still be exploring other options but certainly the talks with VANOC have broken off," said Edwards.

Asked if she was disappointed that the talks had failed she said: "I am. We had hoped that we would come to some arrangement if for no other reason that we had hoped to have some cash to put on activity programs for the elementary students when (the schools) are closed for a week."

VANOC spokesperson Maureen Douglas said it was a challenge to work within a fixed budget and meet the school district's requirements.

"VANOC has been in discussions with School District 48 for some time regarding use of Whistler Secondary School for workforce accommodation and support service," she said.

"Unfortunately we were not able to reach an agreement that works for both parties. VANOC is working within a fixed budget and must make sound financial decisions. The proposed terms for the use of Whistler Secondary School could not be aligned with VANOC's budget."

With the rental arrangements in flux schools are not looking at tweaking their own calendars.

The May 13th school board meeting will see requests from three Squamish elementary schools to open one week earlier in the fall of 2009 and close for the two weeks of the Olympics. Currently school starts Sept. 8 with one week off during the Games. The schools seeking change are Stawamus, Valleycliffe and Garibaldi. They are community schools and are not part of the bus route.

"School are free to put in an alternate calendar if they want," said Edwards.

In 2007 VANOC requested that all four high schools in the district be closed to house volunteers and other workforce during the event.

VANOC asked that elementary schools stay open because it recognized that working parents would have to take vacation at Games time to look after their kids if the schools closed. The Resort Municipality of Whistler also wanted the schools to stay open.

However, after community meetings and a survey it was decided that all elementary schools would close for a spring break week during the Olympics, the high schools in Pemberton and Squamish would close for two weeks and the Whistler high school would close for three weeks and two days.

(In Whistler, 32 per cent of those who responded to the board survey on the school closures said they felt the schools should stay open.)

The prospect of renting out space in the schools necessitated a whole new calendar being drawn up for students throughout the district.

"The whole calendar has been fraught with angst and hand wringing and hair tearing in this process," said Cathy Jewett chair of the District Parent Advisory Council for Sea to Sky.

"I must say I am really disappointed in the time lines that VANOC has used. They were very silent to begin with, then a small flurry of activity, and now the talks have shut down, so it is very disappointing."

She pointed out that while VANOC is under no obligation to rent out the school space there was an expectation that it was going to happen and the deal would provide funds for programs to help with childcare for at risk youth and the children of people working flat out to make the Games a success in the resort.

It has been challenging for VANOC, added Jewett, that the high schools in the communities are not all closed for the same length of time during the Games.

The district has nine elementary and four high schools that may be of interest to renters in the communities of Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton.

Under the approved school calendar:

• Spring break for Whistler Secondary will be moved from March 8-12, 2010 to Feb. 22-26, 2010 and the school will also be closed for an additional two weeks prior to the moved spring break and two days following the moved spring break, resulting in a total closure from Feb. 8 to March 2, 2010.

• Spring break for Whistler area elementary schools will be moved to Feb. 22-26.

• Spring break for all Squamish and Pemberton schools will be moved from March 8-12, 2010 to Feb. 22-26.

• Pemberton, Don Ross and Howe Sound Secondary schools will be closed for an additional week prior to the moved spring break.

• Vancouver and Richmond schools will not be closed at Games time. West Vancouver schools will be closed as usual for a two-week spring break.