Thursday, February 12, 2009

One more slight delay for Pacific Coast School

Prince Rupert's newest home for education will have to wait just a little bit longer for official approval, this after Prince Rupert City council held off on final approval pending approval from the Ministry of Transportation.

The Pacific Coast School which has already had one location vetoed by city council, will have to provide reassurances to the Ministry of Transportation that students won't be hopping in and out of cars in front of the building, which is considered to be on Highway 16.

Instead, plans for a drop off zone and parking for the school will be destined for behind the school on the Rupert Square parking lot side of the building.

It's not considered a major setback, but bureaucracy being bureaucracy, all possible trouble spots must be addressed before any final reading of the rezoning application can be granted.

The Wednesday Daily News outlined the latest chapter of the now much discussed educational outpost.

Alternate school approval close
Councillors just waiting on Victoria before giving the stamp of approval
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pages one and five

The Pacific Coast School was very close to receiving its final approval at this week's council meeting, but teachers and students will have to wait a little longer.

City Manager Gord Howie and planning consultant Zeno Krekic said the school could not be opened until it received final approval from the provincial Ministry of Highways.

"Making any decision like that without the ministry's approval might not do much for our relationships with that regulatory body," said Howie to council.

Teachers and representatives from the school board were present, including Superintendent Eric Mercer, but soon left after the decision was made Monday to give the building rezoning one more reading.

The issue has to do with who has governing rights over building use on Second Avenue. The city can make its wishes known regarding the site next to the busy road but the Ministry of Highways has veto power because the road is an extension of Highway 16, all the way to Five Corners.

Because the new school is to be located in the old Hecate Strait building beside the Tim Horton's on Second Avenue, the school needs to consent of the ministry.

The ministry has placed two covenants on any prospective approval. The first one prohibits students from being dropped off in front of the school in a traffic lane because of safety concerns.

The second covenant was that alternative parking be made available for drop-offs in the mall parking lot behind the school. If the ministry feels assured about the potential dangers being averted, then it is expected that council will formally vote the school district's application for rezoning.

That reading could come soon, too, as Krekic said he was planning to meet with highway representatives early this week.

As has been the case throughout the Pacific School approval process, councillor Anna Ashley continued to excuse herself from the debate because she felt she was under a conflict of interest.
Ashley considers herself to be in a conflict because she is a teacher at Prince Rupert Secondary School and feels the optics would be bad if she voted in favour of the school.

That led to a lengthy discussion at the end of the council meeting, as Ashley sought to confirm whether or not the city would develop a 'conflict of interest policy' or at least set up a continuous legal advice process on potential conflict of interest situations.

Ashley presented a motion that would let an individual councillor seek advice on conflict of interest issues if he or she were unsure about the potential unsavory contradictions.

The motion was tabled in a vote of four-to-three, with Mayor Jack Mussallem, Coun. Sheila Gordon-Payne and Coun. Kathy Bedard voting against.

Voting for the motion to table it would give city staff a chance to find further communities with such a policy and report to council to see if it would work in Prince Rupert.

Mussallem said that he would vote against that motion as he felt that an estimated $200 per consultation was a steep price to pay. He also believed that the current rules that allow for a councillor to use best judgment was enough of a guideline.

"I think it would be in our best interest to have a policy in place," disagreed Ashley.

Ashley said the community of Nelson had such a policy in place. Howie said he had found seven communities already that do not have such a policy.

Coun. Joy Thorkelson sympathized with Ashley, stating that she had lived through a difficult time dealing with her conflict as it related to fisheries issues.

Thorkelson said one of the things that made her more comfortable with the issue is having a discussion with a city lawyer on what constitutes a conflict of interest and how to avoid it.

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