Port McNeill in Focus is a bi-weekly opinion piece, written by Port McNeill locals Derek Koel and Matt Martin, that focuses primarily on various issues going on in and around the town. Have some thoughts about Port McNeill in Focus? Email editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish them online and in print.

Port McNeill in Focus: Council has been kicking around the future of the Old School building for far too long

“It’s hard to have an informed “conversation” when you can’t access the relevant information.”

It can be frustrating watching Port McNeill’s mayor and council procrastinate on decisions and stifle information.

Council has been kicking around the future of the 17,324 square foot Old School building for far too long now.

Past and present councils have long known about this aging facility’s issues.

Are we throwing away good money after bad heating and maintaining it?

What’s with the business case for the “tenants”?

Should it be fixed up or torn down? If demolished, then surely it would need to be replaced with something?

It houses all sorts of important community groups and services, but could it be used for more?

All this amidst dire predictions of an expensive asbestos and hazardous materials horror show.

Weighty questions that require public input.

At the June 4, 2018 council meeting, Coun. Graham MacDonald questioned if the public had been consulted on the future of the Old School.

Mayor Shirley Ackland insisted public consultation and “conversations” have been had on the Old School, and the public is aware of the situation.

The oft mayor’s spokesperson, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, Dan Rodin, chimed in that the town was waiting for all facts first, then it would be brought to the public.

One of the facts he was referring to is the Old School Hazardous Materials Assessment Report that they were waiting for. He went on to inform us that any decision before the municipal election (Oct 20/18) would be unlikely, as there would be not enough time.

Well the “facts” are now in, actually they came in just two weeks later, the report by Bastion Environmental is dated June 18.

That’s a full 4 months before the election, lots of time to do something.

Yes, the election is around the corner, but five more council meetings are still on the current council’s plate. It’s not too late to discuss some kind of Old School vision or plan to move this forward, or at least provide more information for the public and prospective political candidates to chew on.

There was ample time to get this information on the July 16 council agenda, so why does it take me poking around the town office for information like this to come to light?

It’s an OK read, if you can get your hands on a copy. It’s not online and can’t be emailed to you (for some reason?), but if you head to the town office during office hours, pull up a chair, you can check it out.

That’s not great public consultation and it’s hard to have an informed “conversation” when you can’t access the relevant information.

Here is a suggestion that might keep us better informed. How about the town throw some more meat on the bone that is “The Town Log”, otherwise known as McNeill’s monthly mail out.

Spare us the usual season’s greetings, fluff, and other niceties. Give us the good, bad and ugly of council business, in layman terms. Closed door conversations and skimpy council minutes are not keeping the people informed.

Any decision or bylaw can be changed by future government. We elect and trust our politicians to provide leadership and make the tough decisions.

Delaying and deferring important community decisions based on the election cycle and not wanting to handle the political hot potato is called a council cop-out.

So you are probably wondering what did the report say?

I’m no expert, but it doesn’t look that bad.

My gut says keep and upgrade the Old School, but unfortunately, I don’t have all the information.

Derek Koel is a local businessman, residing in Port McNeill since 2000. Over the years he has served on many local boards, committees, and organizations. He is a father of two, and is interested in healthy living, outdoor recreation, and local issues in the community.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette.

If you have a different opinion, we request you write to us to contribute to the conversation.

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