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Greater Victoria School Board votes to go ahead with sale of land for new hospice building

The initial plan was to sell 1.9 acres, but that was dropped to 1.28 acres after discussions between the board and the hospice society, with the remainder left for Bowker Creek improvements.

The Greater Victoria School Board has approved the controversial sale of land at the south campus of Lansdowne Middle School to the Victoria Hospice Society for $2.5 million, disappointing a group that had hoped the parcel bordering Bowker Creek would be saved as green space.

The board voted 4-3 this week to approve the third and final reading of the required bylaw for the sale, with trustees Angie Hentze, Nicole Duncan and Ann Whiteaker opposing the move.

The initial plan was to sell 1.9 acres, but that was dropped to 1.28 acres after discussions between the board and the hospice society, with the remainder left for Bowker Creek improvements.

Victoria Hospice chief executive Kevin Harter said that includes “meandering” the creek to fix flooding problems — widening the creek bed by four metres and sloping the banks.

The society wants the land, part of the grounds of the former Richmond Elementary, for a new hospice facility, which would require land-use approval from the District of Saanich. The parcel is separated from the 6.1-acre school property by the creek and a stand of trees.

Once the sale is approved by the Ministry of Education, part of the hospice society’s “due diligence” for the sale involves in-depth feasibility work to be conducted over a 90-day period, Harter said.

That will mean determining exactly what would go in a new hospice building, he said. “It will be a long road ahead, but we are cautiously optimistic about this ideal site for a new home for Victoria Hospice.”

The current plan is to build “a campus of care” with both in-patient and community-support services, including hospice beds, he said, noting a new building would allow the hospice to expand from 18 beds to 30.

Board chairman Ryan Painter, who voted in favour of the land sale, said the approval follows extensive public consultation on the land sale. “There certainly is a very vocal group opposed to this sale, and I think the board completely understands and hears their concerns and knows what they’re concerned about.”

He said the hospice society responded by shifting its plans for the site. There is now a smaller footprint for the building and a commitment to build an outdoor classroom for the neighbouring middle-school students, Painter said.

What is proposed not only helps “a really important community organization” like Victoria Hospice, but includes rehabilitation of the creek, Painter said.

Victoria Hospice, currently headquartered in an aging area of the Royal Jubilee Hospital precinct, has been seeking a new site for 15 years.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward replacement of the aging Cedar Hill Middle School. The district is paying $3.6 million of the project’s cost and the province is paying $42.9 million.

Deanna Pfeifer, who helped organize a pair of rallies opposing the sale leading up to the final vote, said opponents are very disappointed by what she calls a short-sighted decision. “We’re just losing our tree canopy, we’re getting more people crammed into smaller spaces with less access to nature.”

Pfeifer said the creek is vital for protecting urban wildlife — like blue heron and mink — and maintaining biodiversity.

“The schools are now chipping away and selling their land, which is our allotted green space,” she said. “This is it for these kids in this area.

“We don’t get it back — it goes into private hands and we’ll never get it back.”

Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said her group opposed the land sale because it’s concerned about the sale of public school property.

jbell@timescolonist.com